Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS. This time around the team at Atlas has fused (heh) the time tested SMT formula with the Strategy Role Playing Game genre. This entry takes the demon fusion, and a variant of the press turn battle system, but leaves demon negotiation on the cutting room floor. The story plays out through visual novel style plackards, and retains the series' branching paths and morality system.

Like many of the SMT games, Devil Survivor takes place in a modern day Tokyo. Three kids hanging out find themselves trapped there in a government lockdown under the auspices of a gas leak in the subways. Through a strange encounter with a hacker cousin the kids come into possession of devices that are revealed to be able to summon demons. Then over the course of the next six days the game explores the devolution of society as people run out of resources, as the truth of their imprisonment becomes clear, and as powerful people take advantage of the weak. The game uses this to explore ideas about morality, law, order and chaos, and the role of god and freewill in society.

The game play takes standards of the SRPG genre; A grid based map with units and enemies spread across it each with their own strengths and weaknesses; and it amends it with clever turn based battles as you'd see in a modern SMT game. Devil Survivor succeeds by shrinking the maps you might find in a game like Fire Emblem, forcing you into tactical encounters. You get three main characters to take into any battle, along with two demons, on a team. Each map asks you to consider not just the strengths of your main characters but the make up of their teams while planning a route that optimizes for their strengths while guarding against their weaknesses.

The game starts a little slow, by the second or third day it picks up pace when the narrative has started to play out and picking your way through its branching story becomes more exciting while at the same time your collection of demons opens up increasing options during battles. Unlike some games in the series I didn't find this game to be overly hard, giving plenty of opportunities to level up naturally and to replay missions to acquire more skills. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game and consider it among the best in the series, with tight game play, and an interesting story.