Nintendo 3DS owners don't have many choices when it comes to picking out a new RPG nowadays. Aside from DS games, the only title currently out in the genre is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, which is itself a port of a 2009 DS game. Atlus's decision to bring the title over to the 3DS may seem a bit confusing at first, especially when you consider the amount of updates included, but once you dive into your first online bidding war for an out-of-work demon you'll start to understand why Atlus wants this game to be as ubiquitous as possible.
Set in a modern day Tokyo invaded by demons, the government has shut down the city and implemented a sort of martial law. You play as a stylish young teenager who, with the help of his friends, must capture and train these demons to survive. You do so with special PDA devices called COMPs, which allow you to summon and train various demonic pets. They also let you check your email and see how many days are left until you die — this is a demon invasion, after all.
To move the game forward you choose areas to “visit,” which basically just means viewing a quick dialogue exchange. In this version, Atlus has thankfully added fully voiced dialogue, which really helps these segments come to life. After a few of these exchanges, battles will start popping up in different areas; some free battles, some story-specific. By paying attention to conversations and reading your mail, you can gauge what will be going down when, as the time of the day ticks along as you travel from location to location.
This is where the game gets dark. Each morning you receive an email which predicts events that will unfold during the day. These messages are commonly cryptic and dismal, outlining bizarre deaths across the city. The nonplussed tone of the text comes across in a dry and comical manner, but the underlying theme is a bit more serious.
Your COMP pops out an estimate for how long it expects you to survive. It ironically calls this process fate, and it's up to you to prove it wrong. The story commonly meditates on notions like free will and the inevitability of death, but does a good job of keeping it light and not too heavy-handed. At first you and your friends are merely fighting to survive, but eventually unravel a bigger mystery behind the catastrophe.
The game combines excellent artwork and simple 2D sprites and visuals to bring its world to life. While the graphics are certainly not groundbreaking, the visual style is consistent and detailed. Things like movie ads sit on billboards and paper and rubble litter the streets. The lack of 3D visuals really seem like a missed opportunity though, and the leisurely, time-consuming pace of battle could have benefited greatly from such an addition.
Battles send you into a grid-based arena populated with enemies, and in order to survive, you'll have to strategically manoeuvre characters around the map, getting injured characters to safety and attempting to isolate foes to attack them as a group. General combat comes in the form of turn-based attacks, but to get the upper hand you need to gain “extra turns," done by nailing critical attacks. These can come by chance, by lining up elemental weaknesses or by casting spells that guarantee at least one critical hit that round. As a rule of thumb the enemy is more likely to get these than you, so you need to really work hard at this in order to survive. While luck is always some part of the equation, the game does a good job at rewarding well-thought strategies, even doling out cash and experience boosters to especially impressive bouts.
Strategies outside of fights are important as well, like casting support spells on the battlefield, positioning characters and scoring Skill Cracks. These allow you to select demons for specific characters to defeat. If they do, you'll learn a specific skill of the defeated demon, Mega Man style.
The management of your demons also plays a big role in success. The two demon allies each character can keep are upgradable and can be set with specific skills, but new monsters also become available to purchase via your COMP. Using money won from battle, you “bid” on these demons against other imaginary online bidders. The monsters even have a byline, and are prone to shouting in capital letters, making way for such comical gems as “I HATE VIOLENCE” from a wolf man.
Winning bids raises your rank and enables you to acquire more powerful demons, but overbidding and defaulting on payment lowers your rank. You eventually learn to combine demons, which becomes a necessary tactic to defeat the ever more challenging monsters that want to kill you.
The most notable addition to the 3DS version of the game is undoubtedly the 8th Day scenario. This segment adds on more content to the tail end of the game, extending the story and offering up more skills to crack and demons to fight, not to mention a final boss battle.
If you already own or played the DS version, this may not be the reboot you were hoping for. For those coming to the title with a fresh face however, prepare to be impressed. Even though the game doesn't offer up much of an overhaul, it still remains a stellar, stylish game that handily melds strategy and turn-based RPG battle. It's definitely one of the heftier 3DS games out there too, with multiple endings and tons of content to explore. On the DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor was just another drop in the role-playing ocean. Here's to hoping it gets the limelight it deserves on the 3DS.