Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army PlayStation 2
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Atlus
Release Date: Out Now
Here we have the latest Shin Megami Tensei game to be released in Europe and its title, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, certainly is a mouthful. As RPG series go the Shin Megami Tensei games have always offered something out of the ordinary and Devil Summoner (for brevities sake, that's what we're going to be calling it for most of this review) is certainly no different. The very idea of playing a detective who is also a Devil Summoner might seem slightly crazy at first but there's an enjoyable game here with quite a bit of depth.
You'll play as a young man (you choose a name for him) who is just about to be put through some trials in the Kuzunoha training hall before he can become Raidou the 14th Devil Summoner of Kuzunoha. These trials serve as a small tutorial before the game begins in earnest. Raidou is a Devil Summoner who is charged with looking after the capital city in what appears to be Japan in the Taisho era (early nineteenth century to you and me). After passing his trials he is told by the Herald of Yatagarasu that the boundary between this world and the Dark Realm is becoming ever weaker and that demons are beginning to appear in the real world. The Herald tells him to work at the Narumi Detective Agency and also that he may have to enter the Dark Realm to quell any demon unrest there. A period of time passes and then we see Shouhei Narumi, who owns the Narumi Detective agency, receive a phone call from a young girl that's asking for his help. On meeting the girl at Ushigome-gaeri Bridge she makes the rather crazy plea for Narumi and Raidou to kill her. Before they can answer this plea the girl is captured by some mysterious looking guards in red costumes and taken away. They are too powerful for Raidou and he is powerless to stop her abduction. Needless to say this is where the adventure really begins.
As an Assistant Detective Raidou will have to walk the streets and visit various locations around the city in order to gather clues. He has to keep Narumi informed of the clues he finds too. There are many demons scattered around the city however and Raidou will have to deal with them. Devil Summoner uses a real time battle system and for the most part it works well, which is good because there are a lot of battles to be fought. The game uses the random battle mechanic and the battles are, at times, irritatingly frequent. In a battle Raidou can use either his sword for close combat or his gun for ranged attacks. With his sword Raidou can perform a few combos to thrust, spin attack, Dragon Cyclone attack and a three-hit combo slash. As well as firing normal bullets you also have access to elemental bullets (ice, fire etc.). By using elemental bullets that an enemy is weak against you can immobilise them which gives you an opportunity to confine them and have them join your team. As long as an enemy's level doesn't exceed Raidou's he can capture an enemy by immobilising them and then hammering on the circle button in an attempt to deplete their confine gauge. If successful you'll have a new assistant and the demon can fight alongside you in battle. You can issue orders to your summoned demon and have them use physical or magical attacks and heal or support Raidou. You can also tell them not to waste their MP, perform specific attacks or simply leave them to their own devices and battle in a way they see fit. When your demon's morale icon is full you'll be able to perform a powerful combination skill by pressing the square and X button simultaneously.
As well as fighting alongside you in battle, demons are able to help you in your investigations. There are times when Raidou will not be allowed to enter an area he needs to access to gain information. When these situations occur he can then summon a demon and you will control the demon (which most people can't see) and enter the forbidden area to acquire the information. You can also use a demon to attack a person, outside of a battle, when the need arises. Because demons have elemental alignments, and also because your enemies will have weaknesses to certain elements, it pays to have a nice range of differing demons in your party. Therefore you'll want to capture/confine as many of the different types as possible and level them up too, in readiness for some of the tougher battles. You can also visit Victor at the Gouma-Den who offers a few services in regards to demons. You can purchase a demon you've previously caught. You can receive treatment for an injured demon too. Rather more interesting though is Victor's ability to fuse two different demons together to create a unique demon. The new demon will inherit abilities from the two that were used to create it, which makes for some interesting concoctions. Of course Victor will warn you that sometimes 'accidents' occur and the fusion doesn't always go as planned. This type of fusion is known as Binary fusion but there are other types of fusion too. You can fuse a demon with Raidou's sword, a process known as Forge fusion. Finally there's Sacrifice fusion where you'll sacrifice a demon in order to transfer some of their skills to another demon.
Devil Summoner is an enjoyable RPG and one that fans of the genre will appreciate but some aspects of it could have been better. The story does take a while to click into gear and the pace is disappointingly laboured to begin with. During battles you are given a fixed viewpoint and occasionally the view is less than ideal. It's not a major problem but had the game allowed you to change the camera angle it would have avoided those awkward moments when your view is obstructed. I also find it annoying that you don't get to choose what attributes are improved for your demons when they level-up. You get to choose how Raidou develops so why not let you choose how your demons develop. This was also a problem in the previous Shin Megami Tensei games we've reviewed and it's disappointing to see the problem still exists.
Graphically Devil Summoner is no great shakes although it does have a rather unique visual style. The game offers support for 60Hz but not for widescreen or progressive scan. The various character models you'll see in the game look rather mediocre however as you'll view most of them from a distance it's not much of a problem. The city is alive with plenty of people, in their kimonos and Japanese garb, walking the streets. The city looks quite good but you're always given a fixed viewpoint which in some ways is good because you don't have to be concerned with camera angles but in other ways it's slightly irritating. Likewise, and as we've already mentioned, your viewpoint in battles is also fixed. The demons are probably the most detailed characters in the game and some of them actually look quite impressive. On the plus side there are no performance problems and the load times are fairly short.
Strangely enough Devil Summoner doesn't have any verbal dialogue in the game and all dialogue is delivered via text only. The text is shown in dialogue boxes and the speaker's name is placed above the dialogue so you'll always know who is saying what. All tutorial messages are shown in text. Gouto, the black cat that accompanies Raidou will give you advice when the need arises and this is shown in text too. As you walk the streets on your investigation you'll notice items that you can pick up will glint. As we've already mentioned you're visually notified when a combination skill can be used when your demon's morale icon will have filled and begun to pulse. During battle you're notified of status effects through text and icons. You'll see the words 'Weak!' and 'Crit!' appear when an enemy is weak to your attacks and when a critical hit has been achieved. You'll see floating numerical values to indicate the damage being given and taken during battles. Even your demon will give you feedback during battles telling you when your current commands for him aren't working. In fact deaf gamers will have no problems at all with Devil Summoner.
If you enjoy RPG's and don't mind them being a little out of the ordinary then Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army is definitely one to put on your wish list. The need to form a balanced party of different demon types is an essential part of the game. The various types of fusion that can be performed with demons adds depth and unlimited strategic possibilities to keep things interesting. The crazy amount of random battles on offer can be annoying though and if you aren't a fan of RPGs that use random battles, then Devil Summoner is probably going to irk you somewhat. It's also a little disappointing that the story takes a while to really get going. Fans of the Shin Megami Tensei series and those who just enjoy well made and interesting RPGs will enjoy what Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army has to offer.
Those who have enjoyed previous Shin Megami Tensei titles and those who like RPGs with a less traditional flavour should definitely add Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army to their collection. The crazy amount of random battles you'll have to wade through can make it a rather testing experience at times though.