Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor

released on Jan 15, 2009

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor

released on Jan 15, 2009

Tokyo is in full lockdown, the government's swift, coldblooded response to a surprise demon invasion. Trapped within the sprawling metropolis is the city's helpless populace, forced to turn on each other in order to survive. A mysterious piece of technology, the COMP, falls into the hands of you and your peers. This device allows you to form contracts, forcing demons to serve you in battle against the otherworldly creatures. There are others with COMPs, so-called demon tamers, who seek to use the demons to satisfy their own whims-be they for justice, peace, or power-in the chaos that was once downtown Tokyo. Where did the demons come from? Why did they appear? Who created the COMPs, and what is their purpose? These questions must soon be answered, for if you fail to solve the mystery, much more is at stake than your own lives.


Also in series

Devil Survivor 2: The Extra World
Devil Survivor 2: The Extra World
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

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Several years after the Majin Tensei series, Atlus decided to take another crack at combining Megami Tensei with Fire Emblem. And they did a pretty damn good job at it.

You have 3-4 human party members, each of which can have 2 demon companions with them. I probably spent literal hours building different team configurations when it came to who had what demons and what skills everyone had. The system is VERY deep and allows for a lot of freedom. Pretty much after every main mission or 2 I'd spend a while rebuilding the party again. The turn-based strategy combat is really well done, though it's pretty hard (I also spent a lot of time grinding the repeatable missions).

The story and characters are pretty good, although sometimes it gets a bit cringey anime-y. Still, you'll have a great time meeting all these characters and there's a pretty big variety of endings to go for, most of which have wildly different endgame missions (some even have an extra day added on). Personally I went for Haru's ending.

This game has a very robust NG+ system. When you beat the game, you get a certain amount of points which you can spend to carry different things over and do other things on your next playthrough. While I felt done with the game for now and didn't do another playthrough, I'm a pretty big fan of how it handles this and will likely use it in the future.

Something I'm not really a fan of is the character designs. The designer for this game and the sequel was a guest who didn't work on other games in the series and you can really tell. Also I've seen his design notes and, I'm not joking, this guy was absolutely obsessed with the boob size of his female characters. It's what like half of his notes are about.

There's an enhaced version for 3DS, but if you have the time I recomend playing the DS version as well. They did a full re-translation of both DeSu 1 and 2 for their 3DS ports and it's fun seeing the original translation, some dialogues are completely different.
I don't know which version is more accurate to the original JP script, but it's still insteresting to read.

I love the battle system and the sprites are expressive as hell. the story feels so expansive too and its probably a good RPG. I don't know, I'm not gonna finish it but if you have time on your hands lmk

Devil Survivor’s number one goal is to make the player feel like they’re playing something cool. It has this aesthetic I haven’t seen in many other games which I continually referred to as “trashy anime” while playing - it’s so over the top, so stupid, so edgy, that it actually tips the scale back to being kind of amazing. I love the main character’s stupid fucking cat headphones, I love Naoya’s weird-ass cloak. I sincerely regret not recruiting the playable Black Frost, and I love that there’s even an option to use a demon as a main party member. There's only so far this charm can go before it dissipates, though. I found the heavy sexualization of the women in the game who are overwhelmingly minors to be disgusting, though. Devil Survivor’s writing reeks of misogyny - the most present woman in the game, Yuzu (a character who I’m sure capital g Gamers were very Normal about in 2009) spends most of the game either whining about wanting to go home, or fawning over the protagonist. At first, I enjoyed Yuzu’s trepidation towards the whole act of demon summoning. I found it to be somewhat realistic to how someone might react in a similar situation in real life, but it became clear over the course of the narrative that Yuzu was not going to get any big character moments throughout the story to grow. Her ending is pretty insultingly bad, in my opinion. A complete waste of a potentially interesting character.

Generally, I found the writing in Devil Survivor to be kinda hit or miss. They do a good job framing the narrative with interesting plot devices like the Death Clocks and Laplace Mail, but the game’s pacing removes all the interesting tension that those devices could create. This game’s midsection, especially days three four and five, are dreadfully boring, with little of note happening aside from the boss fights. The player just kind of aimlessly wanders around Tokyo, talking to random NPCs to pass the time and lock in their alignment. Devil Survivor’s pace in general is just far too slow - I hate being that guy who needs a speed up button to play RPGs, but without a speed-up button I seriously don’t think I would’ve been able to finish this game. Though, when the writing hits, it hits. I love how they handled routes in this game - there are no routes that felt objectively bad (aside from Yuzu’s), and I appreciate that the game lets you select which route you want instead of just thrusting you into whichever one your alignment score matches up with. Unfortunately, this doesn’t salvage any of the game’s pacing problems, but at least after slogging through painfully slow and unfun battles you’re rewarded with something cool sometimes.

Before I get into the gameplay, I should note that I played through Devil Survivor using a strength build. According to the few fourteen-year-old GameFAQs threads I read about this game, this is the shittier build compared to magic. It definitely tainted some of my experience. I did the Naoya route as my first (and probably only) playthrough, and two out of three of my party members going into the endgame were using physical skills, those being Atsuro and Kaido. With my MC taking all the good physical skills and Naoya gorging himself on literally all of my magic based skills, I was left with Kaido taking all the non-preferred physical skills and poor Atsuro being forced to use support magic, something he’s not very good at. I ended up kind of loving this team aesthetically, but it was miserable to slog through the seventh day with just the main character, Naoya, and what essentially amounted to dead weight.

Most SMT games require little to no grinding thanks to demon fusion - all you really need are three demons that are around the player character’s level. Swapping out demons for boss fights is easy because you only need to create three demons at most. This entire approach is lost in Devil Survivor because the player is deploying eight individual demons in every battle. Deceptively, this causes the game’s most frustrating problem: in order to create stronger demons, you’ll usually be fusing demons from your rotation of eight. When you create a new demon, odds are you will then need to fill a vacant slot on a character’s team. Mind you, there’s no Compendium in the DS version of this game, which drastically changes the way the player interacts with fusion. Any demon that you’ve leveled is essentially lost forever if you fuse it away. You can fuse the demon again, but you’ll have to re-level it to relearn all of its skills. So, you must use the Demon Auction system to bolster your roster for fusion. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if demons weren’t so expensive, but in the late game, demons become absurdly expensive and thus necessitate grinding Free Battles to be able to afford them. Not only that, but Free Battle grinding is further necessitated for cracking skills and leveling your team for the many absurd late-game spikes in difficulty.

Speaking of difficulty spikes, the spikes in Devil Survivor are pretty egregious. Having to run a boss rush of all the previous Bel demons into the final boss was stupid. It didn’t feel like my tactics were being challenged in any way, it was just abusing the game’s imbalance (Drain + Holy Dance) until I finally won. In general, I strongly disliked that Devil Survivor was an SPRG, but my only experience in the genre is from Fire Emblem so I don’t really feel qualified to critique Devil Survivor’s implementation of the genre. The SMT-styled battles were pretty good, but nothing special.

Devil Survivor is like mainline SMT’s less cool younger brother who can do Tech Deck tricks - it's neat, but ultimately nothing of real value.