Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (NDS)
The Short Version: It’s a comfy patchwork quilt, made of Pokemon, Tactics, The World Ends With You, and stuffed full of nice, fluffy LUCIFER
The Long Version: In Devil Survivor, you and your fellow anorexic Japanese teenagers do your best to survive inside Shibuya (and other parts of Tokyo) for seven days while mysterious heavenly and demonic forces toy with your lives as if you were a band of chess pieces with a bit too much hair product, via cryptic emails that give you your next obective. This isn’t to be confused with the World Ends with You, because in Devil Survivor, instead of magical pins that operate through the power of BELIEVE IN YOURSELFIUM, you are given a COMP (a Nintendo DS, right down to making the ‘power on’ noise when you get email) that summons demons by your cousin Naoya, who looks like this:
Basically, the game opens with You (might as well capitalize it since MegaTen heroes are always nameless, mute, insertion vessels), Yuzu (Your childhood friend/E-Cup transport device), and Atsuro (Walking exposition in a Gilligan hat.) You receive your COMPs from Naoya, and no sooner do you power them on, you find that your cousin has hacked the bejesus out of them, which causes Atsuro, who has a geek hard-on for your cousin, to hack them further and unseal the DEMON SUMMONING PROGRAM. Yuzu, being inquisitive or stupid, has to ask what that means, shortly before, well, the program summons some demons for you to fight.
So, basically this is a strategy RPG in the vein of Luminous Arc or Tenchi Muyo for the SNES. Or to ue less obscure examples, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2, and Tinal Tantasy Factics Advance Fudge Ripple 2 DS. Though it’s not quite the same, you’re still moving units about the grid in a turn based format, but when a unit attacks another, it goes to another screen for a turn based RPG-style mini battle, usually only two turns long at most. Now, I realize that it sounds like the programmers were all, “Dogg, I heard you like turn based battles, so I put turn based battles in your turn based battles so you can wait while you wait,” but it actually manages to feel pretty fast paced. Maybe it’s the hair metal battle music. Every time you initiate battle, the screen makes a staticy ZSSST transition and wailing guitar riffs take over, even though the actual action is basically Earthbound’s battle system with zooming in and out of the graphics. It’s kind of cheap, actually, but HOLY FUCK ROCK OUT TO DEMON BATTLING.
You fight with up to two demons under the service of each player character, and new ones are recruited either through eBay, or fusing other monsters together into more powerful ones, or else just different ones. Sometimes you can get two gigantic behemoth dragons or something like that and the end product might be a Level 3 Pixie like you started the game with. Luckily it at least warns you what you’re getting before you commit to the fusion. Demons seem really enthusiastic about losing their individuality, incidentally. Pixies giggle, “Oh, are you trying to make me even more sexy?”, while more brutal monsters like ogres slobber about big muscles and male enhancement. Demons learn new attacks as they level up, much like Pokemon, and also like Pokemon, they have very little brain space, so you have to give up one skill if you already have three of a given type (actions, innate abilities, racial powers- you only get one of those.) You can also steal skills for yourself through what’s called the Skill Crack system, which is pretty sweet. Skill Cracking is pretty much you pointing at a baddie, saying, “Nice elemental resistance. Think I’ll take it!” then if that character is the one to defeat that enemy, you’ll ‘download’ that skill and apply it to yourself. It’s a lot less agonizing than games where you inexplicably learn skills by holding onto a certain weapon for the better part of a week. “Ah, these boots are finally getting broken in. HOLY CRAP I JUST LEARNED HOW NOT TO GET HIT BY FIRE.”
The game’s progression is actually pretty cleverly done. You pick locales within the Yamanote Circle to visit, and locations with a little people icon next to the name have people for you to speak to, ones with a ! mark have battles (some being free battles you can use to grind), and most significantly, the clock icon next to an event means that you’ll lose a half hour going there. You only have so long to survive (the number of days is a number above your head), so choosing some encounters makes you miss others, and all of them hustle you on to a horrific death. You see, while you and your pals are busy reading future-tense news emails and trying to stretch your timers out by preventing disasters, there isn’t a soul in the city who has a counter indicating they’ll live past day seven of the lockdown, implying something big and nasty will happen at the week’s end. Will you save the day with your demon-hacking Nintendo portable and scenester hair? It’s up to you, a GameFAQ, and your attention span!
(In all seriousness, Devil Survivor is a rare, well paced strategy rpg with several endings to reach and won’t take six eternities to reach them all like say, Disgaea.)