With the soaring development costs for HD gaming, as well as the relatively low install base for the PlayStation 3, it’s no wonder some developers are still turning to the PlayStation 2 to earn a buck. With Persona 4’s release garnering a positive reception last year, Atlus has enjoyed a measure of success with this strategy. With the release of Devil Summoner 2, a niche Japanese RPG with a flair for the occult, it appears that the company is trying to start a trend.
Devil Summoner 2 is a mystery that plays out like a detective novel, with multiple interwoven plot threads. The one caveat is that it’s heavily rooted in Japanese culture, so some of the more intricate nuances will be lost in the translation for Western audiences. Players once again take on the role of Raidou Kuzunoha, an new apprentice devil summoner charged with protecting the capital. While working out of the Narumi Detective Agency, one of your first client requests you track down a man who has gone missing. As it turns out, the case evolves into something far more complicated, involving a hidden village of assassins, magical bugs, and mysterious god named Lord Tento.
There are only a handful of characters, so plenty of attention has been given to developing their story arcs. It pays off with more meaningful sub- plots mixed in with the main narrative. The game’s story has a strong opening and finishes up nicely, but the pacing is a bit uneven in middle chapters where the focus shifts more to the game rather than the plot. Given the source material, the localization team did a great job with the writing effort. It’s a satisfying tale that you’ll want to see through to the end.
As with its predecessor, Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, the latest Devil Summoner is an RPG with heavy action elements. Players will traverse a world comprised of static maps and pre-rendered environments in order to solve the mystery of King Abaddon over seven lengthy chapters. The game’s equally balanced between playing detective by interacting with the various townspeople spread across the world, and old fashioned dungeon-crawling. Random encounters are frequent, and coupled with some serious backtracking, Devil Summoner 2 demands a high threshold for tedium.
Raidou has the ability to negotiate with demons, and it’s doing so necessary to recruit powerful allies to his side if you hope to succeed. You’ll need to answer several questions as well as offer up bribes to earn a demon’s patronage, but reading their personalities can prove challenging. At times the correct solution seems arbitrary, as selecting the same action for two demons of the same type results in different outcomes. But once you coax one to your side, you’ll have a fast, if tentative ally. Friendly demons will level up alongside Raidou, learning new abilities. Players can also fuse two demons together to produce a new specimen.
Gathering effective allies is vital in Demon Hunter 2. Using a specific demon in battle will build up their level of trust with toward Raidou. While loyalty never permanently decreases, occasionally your demons will go rogue on you during a battle. But their powers also prove useful outside of combat, as they can read people’s minds, manipulate objects, impersonate other characters, and reach places that Raidou can’t. It’s fun to see what’s possible with each new demon, and with over 200 of them, there’s no shortage of possibilities.
Luck also plays a significant role in Raidou’s adventures, and it will occasionally impact the conditions outcome of a battle. Depending on the conditions set forth at the outset, a battle can change drastically, for better or worse. Improving your luck stat will tip the scales in your favor, so neglect it at your own risk. It’s a bit cruel that one random enemy encounter with poor conditions can wipe clean hours of hard fought progress, and it doesn’t help that save points are often placed in poor locations.
Coming in at around 40 plus hours, Devil Summoner 2 requires dedication to tread through. Players of the previous Devil Summoner, though, will have a bit of an edge.
You can transfer save data from the first game title to unlock special bonuses. Sometimes, it feels like you’ll need all the help you can get.
One of the most prominent issues with Devil Summoner stems from Atlus’ decision to retain pre-rendered backgrounds for many of the game’s action sequences. Simply navigating corridors and passages is quite cumbersome, and camera angles can obscure paths and objects. Even in a PS2 title, their heavy use is unacceptable in this day and age. Being unable to effectively navigate means you’ll end up in more random encounters than you’d prefer, you to log quite a bit of time crossing blades with nasty demons, shady assassins, and other foes.
In battle, Raidou has the ability to use both a gun and his trusty blade. Your sword can perform basic attacks that chain together, as well as execute a single, more powerful attack. Though several blades can be forged via the game’s alchemy system, the only real difference between them aside from stats is the nature of their “strong” attack. When enemies try to keep their distance, players can use their gun to stun them from afar and then rush in. Raidou can also block attacks, as well as flip and roll to dodge. His move set isn’t incredibly deep, but it gets the job done.
Players enter the battle arena with Raidou and up to two demon allies. Though you can only control up to two demons at a time, Raidou can switch others in and out on the fly. There are several different classes of demons, each with unique attacks and passive abilities. Your demon party members will attack the same foe as you by default, and you can issue precise commands to them via a menu interface. Most demon abilities will cost magic points to perform, as will Raidou’s strong attacks. While you shouldn’t go all out with your spells and strong attacks, being too conservative will prove costly.
Very few battles can be blazed through with brute strength alone. In most cases, you’ll need a well formulated strategy to come out alive, so you’ll need to pick the demon allies that will be the most effective. “Level grinding” isn’t the answer either, you’ll have to make sure you master the capabilities of your demon allies. Doing so will, you’ll cut back on the time you spend in battle, ensuring that your attacks are actually effective against the enemies you come up against.
It may take some time to get used to, but Devil Summoner’s battle system can be enjoyable once you’re clicking on all cylinders.
If the pre-rendered backgrounds hadn’t caused enough trouble already, they’re also very inconsistent in their quality. What’s more displeasing is that they get progressively worse over the course of the game. The overworld map is very bland and simple, though thankfully you won’t spend much time in it. On the other hand, the character models are decent, though certainly not pushing any boundaries for such a late generation PS2 title. The one thing the game does do well visually is capturing the essence of 1920s Japan.
On the audio front, the new music is fantastic and catchy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the entire soundtrack, as some tune are direct rips from previous SMT games, while a handful did receive new arrangements. There’s also a lack of voice work, and despite the great writing effort, the walls of dialogue feel lifeless in an RPG in this day and age.
If you can overcome navigating pre-rendered backgrounds and enduring countless random battles, Devil Summoner 2 turns out to be an enjoyable experience. It’s got a great atmosphere and plot coupled with solid battle mechanics. And at its bargain price, it won’t put as much hurt on your wallet.