This year Atlus Japan celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Devil Summoner series by re-releasing the original game for the PSP. They also added to the line with a brand-new game that finally brings Devil Summoner to the Playstation 2 for a new generation, and now a new location, to play. While this is the first time a Devil Summoner title has been released in the States, it should have no problem standing alongside Digital Devil Saga and Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.
Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha Versus the Soulless Army is a roleplaying game based in 1920's Japan, where the kidnapping of a young girl starts a mystery that threatens to alter history as we know it. The only man who can take on this case is rookie devil summoner and detective Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th, an alter ego that the player assumes at the start of the game. To take on his otherworldly foes, he'll have to capture and summon demonic allies to uncover clues and battle his enemies.
You're probably wondering what walls have to do with all of this. Uh...you'll have to play to find out. Anyway...
The majority of the game centers on battles and sleuthing. Unlike previous Shin Megami Tensei titles, Devil Summoner's battle system is real-time and full of continuous back and forth action. Ditching the classic turn-based system, players control Raidou on a square battlefield where they must defeat their enemies using a variety of sword and gun techniques. This gives the game a little bit of a Devil May Cry feel. While fighting and dodging attacks, Raidou is joined by a selected demon summon, who can use magic to help out during battle. Although the demon is controlled via CPU, you can still pause battle to give it suggestions on how to act, or you can just let it do whatever the heck it wants.
Obviously, being a detective requires some expert sleuthing as well. Raidou's demon summons are a lot more than just extra party members. Each summon has its own special skills that will allow Raidou to do things like read people's minds, sneak into tiny spaces, and obtain items out of reach. It's a lot of fun trying out all the different abilities while looking around.
Fusion, which is another big aspect of Megaten titles, has also seen changes. The classic combining of two demons is still a big part of gameplay, but now a mite more challenging. A freshly caught demon won't allow itself to be fusion fodder right away, so you'll have to fight alongside of it until it's completely loyal to you before you go crazy with fusion. Sacrificial and Forge fusions can also be accessed later in the game, which allow the player to enhance existing demons and even Raidou himself.
Players are treated to a beautifully rendered recreation of Taisho era Japan, complete with cars running down the road, streetcars rolling across the tracks, and swarms of citizens traveling through the different areas. Even a trip down an alleyway can startle a local stray cat. For the most part, despite these detailed environments, the game runs smoothly and without the hassle of a long 'now loading' screen in-between events. It is only during battle that lag occurs. During these lags some button input is not registered, but these incidents only seem to happen when a large amount of enemies are present on the field.
The sound could be a lot better. The Megaten games could take a hint from other RPGs and throw in an options menu that allows the player to adjust the sound. Like in Digital Devil Saga 2, the sound is very off-balance.
Control outside of battle could be a lot smoother. There is no camera control in Devil Summoner, which can make navigation a little annoying at times. I mostly had this problem while ascending and descending staircases, or turning awkward corners. Even during battle, it would have been nice to have the ability to change the view of the field, as sometimes you can lose track of Raidou among the swarms of demons that are trying to attack you.
Devil Summoner also has a few side quests that players can complete to allow for a few unique fusion possibilities, as well as mini-games and a training hall. There is enough to keep you busy without getting too overwhelming.
Devil Summoner is due out today, so if you're wanting something different in the RPG genre or looking for a chance to jump into the Shin Megami Tensei series, this is a great title to pick up. While not as dark and serious as its siblings, this is a definite must-play for RPG fans.