Inside Pulse 12

Review: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children: Darkness Of Day (Game Boy Advance)

Alright people! It’s finally here! A Shin Megami Tensei game. IN ENGLISH! Something I’ve been waiting for Years. And truth be told, I never thought this day would come. The subject matter is almost taboo in the US thanks to how prevalent Christianity is here. That generally rules out most of the games. Many years back there was talk of localizing Soul Hackers (Devil Summoner 2) for the PS1 or Saturn, but that was to no avail, as Sony Kaboshed for either the reason of the aforementioned subject matter, or the graphics quality. Depends on who you talk to. ;-)

But although some people might get their panties in a wad over a video game series where the hero uses demons as allies or soldiers (or in Nocturne IS a demon) and God is generally the vile protagonist, the fact is it is just a game. And a lot of the demons are cute and silly (Jack Frost is this series Pikachu for example) and the plots are by far some of the most thought provoking and complicated in all of gamedom. But what may strike you as the most bizzare is that Megaten (as the series is known) is that although it is barely known in the US except for Lunacy, and two Persona games being translated, it is one of the big three RPG series in Japan. The other two are obviously Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

But now, with the advent of’ (ugh) Demikids on US shores, we can finally play an actually Megami Tensei game in ENGLISH!

I know. You want to ask, ‘Alex, what is the difference between Shin Megami Tensei and Persona. Or Persona and Lunacy. Or Shin Megami Tensei and yadda yadda yadda.’ And it’s a good question to ask.

First off, the name MegaTen is a shortening of MEGAmi TENsei. Like Miho-Kyo for Mihoshi and Kyone in Tenchi Universe/in Tokyo. Nothing fancy or cryptic. And YES, there are more than Ten games in MegaTen.

The problem is that the lines of Megaten blurs. Where one spin off begins and one ends can be tricky. The fact there is a Megami Tensei and a SHIN Megami Tensei also adds to the madness unless you work for Atlus or are a crazy obsessed nut. And even then you have trouble. There are misguided people who think Maken X is part of the MegaTen series. It’s not. There are many people who didn’t know Lunacy is a spin off from Persona, which is a spin off from SMT which is a spin of from Megami Tensei. Confused yet? It’s okay if you are. I actually know what I’m talking about and I’m getting dizzy!

The thing to remember is that also some monsters cross over from parallel series to another, they are all unique for the most part. Think of Nyarlathotep from Eternal Punishment of gamers who have played in English. The Crawling Chaos speaks of alternate universes and parallel dimensions. Assume that each subset of MegaTen is separate with characters appearing in each one. Dante from Capcom’s Devil May Cry appears in SMT 3: Nocturne for example. But not in the others. Igor and the Velvet Room appear only in the Persona Series. Generic monsters appear to be the only thing to cross over, with the exception of Philemon who has a role in Lunacy as well as Persona games. And that’s it.

All the Persona games go together. Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers go together. All of the Lost/Another Bible games go together. SMT 1, 2, and 3: Nocturne go together. Revelations Demon Slayer belongs in the toilet with all the other fecal matter. Don’t even try to understand where If and Nine belong. ;-)

Of course, the first time I started this review I went twelve pages into my babble before realizing you guys just want a game reviewed and NOT the life history of the MegaTen series. But you know, if you DO want that’I can always do a history for you all. :-D But until that time, I’ll have to learn to be satisfied with discussing the fifth Megaten game translated into English with you all.

The other four are Persona, Persona: EP, Revelations: Demon Slayer, and Lunacy. Maxen X is NOT a MegaTen game. That comes straight from Atlus’ mouth. Or at least their spokesperson type deal who emailed me.

LET’S REVIEW

1. Story

Demikids is a lot like other Shin Megami games. Except that in this case, there are two different stories, depending on which cart you picked up. As Lee is focusing on White of Night, I’ll be avoiding it and just doing Darkness of Day.

Somewhere in the near future there is a school called Rem. Three 6th graders named Lena, Akira, and Jin have formed a demon club. Occult, folklore, research. Stuff like that. What? What’s so strange about that? When I was in sixth grade I was trying to track down a copy of The Magus and studying cuneiform! This is a commonplace activity for Middle School Students.

Meanwhile, in the dimension of Dem (It’s Hell. But being that Lucifer is a major good guy in this game, Atlus has edited out a bunch of the more satanic references, the Lord of Darkness Lucifer his meeting with his keeper of Wisdom, Forlo. Both Lucy and Forlo are discussing the end of all existence, due to the opening of a time rift. Lucifer points out this was prophesised and that the only hope is to find the Devil Children (demikids) who have the power to save the dimensions of Dem, Valhalla, and Earth. Forlo takes off and attempts to find the children that can save all of reality.

Now, comes the confusing part. You encounter Norn, the goddess of fate which allows you to rename yourself from Akira to whatever you choose. Persona 1 fans will remember this scene when a CGI Philemon has much of the same things to say to you. Is Norn an aspect of Philemon? If Philemon an aspect of Norn? Nope. It’s just a commonly used SMT plot point. Philemon is the incarnation of the subconscious mind. Norn is fate. They could make a swinging couple however. ;-)

Back at Ren High school, Akira, Jin, and Lena encounter a new student named Amy and induct her into the Demon Club. At this same time they find a book that actually contains incantations for demon summoning. Who keeps these things in a school library and not in my own???

Jin and Akira read a spell and out pops a Gargoyle from Dem, who is not only pissed at being summoned, but pissed because kids did it. And of course, because of the exuberance of youth, the two kids did not perform the spell correctly and the Gargoyle is free to attack them’and Amy, who the Gargoyle recognizes as a runaway from Valhalla (Heaven).

Amy gives Akira and Jin ‘Demilocs’ which allow control and summoning of Demons. Usually in SMT games demon summoning comes through a computer. Here it is funky ass guns. Your newly found demon sidekick (In this game it is a ROX named Gales) and you kick some Gargoyle booty, and a discussion of the inevitable time rift destroying the universe like Unicron eating moons occurs.

Eventually Jin and Akira split up, and both go to their respective worlds. Akira meets up with Lucifer and does his best to save the world of Dem.

And in truth, that’s most of the story. Akira and Gale run around recruiting new demons, creating new ones and saving their particular dimension while Jin and his Sol Cat save the realm of Vahalla. It’s nothing fancy or mind blowing, especially in comparison to the main SMT and Persona games.

But see, Devil Children is SUPPOSED to be a light version of Shin Megami Tensei. It’s for people new to the series. It’s got SMT gameplay, but with a more stereotypical RPG story and format. World needs saving. Spikey haired kids save the day with cuddly monster friends. It’s like Megamon; a mix of Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei.

Now, that’s not to say Pokemon came first. Oh no. Megami Tensei has been around since the days of old 8 bit Nintendo! And has always been about collecting, trading and evolving demons. Pokemon has always been a cuter, fluffier version of the Megaten series. Atlus is now just trying to reclaim a share of the market that COULD have been theirs had they been a little smarter. Atlus has never been known for quick on their feet thinking after all, even if I do love and cherish them over all other game companies,

So story wise, I’m a bit disappointed. The game has been dumbed down a bit, and also had more controversial names, themes, and characters changed to keep from pissing over overly religious Americans…and getting that all important E rating. But for what it is worth, Demikids has an average old school plot. I just wish they had left a little more meat in it.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Okay. Normally SMT games are not that pretty. They focus on plot first, and looks second. Persona is a perfect example of that. Some ugly ass graphics in that game, but a plot that if you have even the slightest love for philosophy, metaphysics, or something that truly forces you to think, well..you’ll love that game. Demikids however has the best graphics I’ve seen in a SMT game with the obvious exception of NINE and Nocturne.

The game has 300 or so demons, all of which are unique and beautiful to look at. Even if they’re ugly ass monsters. The characters look as if they have come straight from an anime series. And on the GBA, that is damned impressive.

Even the world walking mode is excellent in it’s quality. You can actually see individual blades of grass on the ground. Stars in the heavens sparkle. Akira and Gale on the world screen are obvious them, and not a giant blob of pixels moving to the beat of your D-pad. Altus put a hell of a lot of time into this game’s appearance and it shows.

If you want to yet again compare this game to Pokemon R/S’well don’t bother. Demikids blows my beloved Pokemon out of the water in terms of looks. Not only are there more creatures to collect and make in Demikids, but they are given personalities, and whereas a lot of the new Pokemon in R/S appear rushed, badly designed or created due to writer’s block, SMT:DC gives us everything from classical mythological monsters to old favorites from this nearly 20 year old series.

Out of all the GBA games that I own, I do have to say this and Pokemon pinball are the most beautiful out there right now. Lunar Legends is close, but it reuses a lot of the same monsters with different colour schemes. So if you’re one of those people who plays Final Fantasy and somehow manages to enjoy the game simply because it has great graphics but shit play control and storylines, then I beseech you to hunt down a copy of this game, because it’s pretty, AND it plays well. Right now I can’t think of a better looking game on the system.

Graphics Rating (for a GBA game): 9

3. Sound

The music fits the game perfectly. This is a morose melancholic game. And the music stays in tune with that. The music in the worlds and towns is slow and methodical. There is a sublime aspect to the tunes that is both haunting, but not so dark that it leaves you in a dour or unhappy mood. No, you’re running through Hell and trying to save the multiverse from extinction. The music fits.

Now, the battle music completely changes tempo. It’s not something like the Prince’s theme from Dark Wizard. Or some over the top faced paced Trance music which is meant to hide the fact the game your playing actually sucks. No, Demikids battle theme is fitting for what the game is meant to be: Middle School kids in a SMT world. It’s cute, kitschy, but still with a quick tempo. The music fits the mood of the battles, and that’s what is importance.

Same with the victory music. It reminds me of the old Shining Force ‘You just killed something’ Music. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

Is this a game I would buy the soundtrack for. No. Not at all. It’s decent music, but it’s in a symbiotic relationship with the game. Both the game and the music need each other to achieve the full impact. Decent tunes, but they never stick in my head.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control

It’s an RPG. The controls are as tight as they get. D pad to walk around. A button to explore and talk. In battle mode, things take place from a first person point of view ala Phantasy Star. You can see the monsters and you hitting them, but there’s no sign of your guys anywhere. You get a menu full of all sorts of choices, from recruiting demons to running away. It’s all pretty cut and dry here people.

When you do choose the fight command, each monster has a set of actions they can take ranging from a normal attack, to magic powers, to special skills, to using items. Again, the game looks cute, but the menus are precise and give you a lot of in-depth options. The learning curve is quite low, but the amount of options coupled with a few hundred demons means even a master of this game is going to get a bit confused at times.

The only time there is a control issue on my part is when it actually comes to recruiting demons. In Revelations: Demon Slayer, the recruiting option was so randomized and insane that it made me want to jump up and down on the game and spit on it. Demikids isn’t that bad but the amount of randomness involved does tick me off.

Let’s look at Persona for a second. When recruiting demons in that game, you have certain characters that use specific recruitment tactics each time. And would only every have those techniques. And each demon would react to the technique in the same way. Sometimes you had to use them in a specific order. Sometimes you had to use certain characters. But there was ALWAYS a set of logic involved that would give you the same response each time once you figured out how the demon would react.

Demikids is still rather based on sheer luck and chance in regards to recruitment. Your teams recruitment methods never stay the same, even when using the same demon repeatedly. However, Devil Children has added a few aspects to insure your chances of recruiting that demon you really want is a bit easier. The first is using a demon of the same type to recruit another of that race has a higher chance of success. Another is if your demon belongs to the same family. For example Jack Frost could recruit an Ice baby easier than a fire demon could, because Front and Ice Baby are both Ice demons. But even with this addition of attributes and racial recognition, it’s still too random for my liking.

Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Now here’s what makes Demikids so great. 300 demons to find, recruit and create. You can mix and match dead bones to create a new undead demon, you can merge demons together to create a new one. Your main demon Gale can mutate. You can send demons to school to make them stronger in certain attributes or give them new powers. This alone makes the game last a long time.

By merging and combining demons, powers, skills, and latent talents can cross over to the offspring. Abilities the new type of demon would not otherwise have! You can spend forever on this game JUST trying to create the Ultimate Demon!

But then there’s also battlenet. In battlenet, the options increase. You can have a team of six demons take on another six! You can trade demons with friends to add to your demonary, the book of demons. But you can also fuse some of your demons with those of your friends. Now what’s neat here is that some demons can ONLY be obtained by fusing with your friends. And to find them takes forever! So good luck spending countless hours of your life on this game!

But then the actually story. Will you ever replay the game after you beat it? No! Why would you? You’d lose all those demons you spent so long trying to collect and horde and keep! Who would be that much of a masochist to start over?

Seriously people, when you start demikids, you’re never going to select ‘new game’ again. And that’s the weird paradox of the game. It’s infinitely replyable, but you can never restart it.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Whoo boy. No one has ever claimed the MegaTen games are balanced. Okay. Let me explain that before my fellow SMT fans go nuts on me. It is exceptionally easy to get ultra high powerful characters in any MegaTen game fairly on. I had Hastur in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment within the first ten hours of the game. He’s one of the most powerful Personas you can get! In Darkness of Day, I had a level 53 Demon by the time I got to the second village in the game. The SECOND village! Demons running around at level 10 at this point. TEN. So as you can imagine I had a destructive Juggernaut on my hand, that this game was going to be a cakewalk. Right? RIGHT?

WRONG

See, You can get super powerful things early on, but there’s a wee catch. You character has to be powerful enough to use them. So if you luck out and get a high level demon early on in the game, that doesn’t mean you can use him. He’s just sitting on the bench waiting to get to kick some ass.

Now that’s balance. Give a player something kick ass but make them wait and wait and wait to use it. They know they have a force of destruction. But they can’t use it. And so the anticipation grows. The player catches themselves checking EVERY level if they can use it yet. And when they finally can, the player is ecstatic and gets to watch their unloved baby show its stuff.

Now that’s how to get a person into a game.

The levels of the enemies rise perfectly with your own characters. After all, that’s how you get new allies. So the difficultly level tends to stay the same. Usually you’ll have a slight advantage with 3 guys on your side fighting against two demons. Sometimes when you enter a new area, these strange and new and powerful demons have the edge of being unknown on their side, or maybe a little higher level than your team. But that’s half the fun! Although it’s an fps speed based RPG fighting engine, you still have to have the tactics style thinking ahead of your turn ability to play this game right.

It’s excellent to see a game so well thought out. Hell, even though it’s random battles, the battles are not every other step like in most games that use that combat form. You can walk around for a few minutes and only have 2-3 encounters. It’s nice to be able to actually WALK in an RPG. Kudos to Atlus.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

Eep. Yet another MegaTen game. Yet another ‘Catch ‘Em All’ game. Yet another ‘Young kids use their hidden inner strength to save the world game.’ Yes, Demikids one downfall is that it was original at one time, but every company and their mother has released versions of the same gameplay and plot that brought this serious zillions of Yen back on the tiny floating island of Japan.

But here’s the thing. It’s old to me. But it’s NEW TO YOU. I know Lee and Alex Williams are loving the game. They’ve never gotten to fuse or bribe monsters with money in games to turn on their friends and butcher them like hogs! And also I was a bit disappointed with the fact it was all old hat to me, seeing people new to the SMT line and LOVING IT made me look at the game on it’s own; apart from the MegaTen line, and viewing it how a casual or non import gamer would.

And it still kicks ass. Even though other games have stolen from this series, including Atlus’ own crappy Robopon or whatever it is called.

For most of you reading this there are some new things in this game. Working for Satan? That’s not common in US games. Bullying monsters into giving you their stuff? That’s rather uncommon. Converting previous bosses to your army? Interesting. Casino fun fun? Only in other Atlus games ;-)

There’s nothing mind blowing in SMTDC:DoD, but there’s a lot there better implemented than in any other game that mimicks it.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8.Addictiveness

Well, I am a bit biased here. It’s not the best MegaTen game ever, but it’s better than a few of the other games. It’s a smart choice by Atlus to bring it over, even if they should’ve marketed it a hell of a lot better. Demikids is cute enough to appeal to all ages, but even hardcore gamers are going to be challenged at parts of this game.

But how ‘into’ the game to you get? For me, it comes and goes. The beginning of the game dragged on forever for me. I know the usual plot and exposition. Shut up and let me breed some demons! And then when it takes you until town two to be able to merge demons together, well’it’s annoying. That and the fact it was just another SMT game to me made me want to put it down.

But then when I got into the second town, and talk with ol’ B. L. Zebub, things picked up for me. I loved the Demon Quiz. I spent hours just merging things together! It was all the stuff I loved about SMT games, and it made the game a lot more fun.

Still, even when I got really into it, it was hard for me to play the game more than 2-3 hours at a time. At first I thought it was because I was jaded. But looking back, MegaTen games have always been ones that I love, but that I can’t play for long marathon type sessions. Can’t explain why. It’s just something to play now and then, get really into it for a few hours then stop.

Addictiveness5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Okay. Importers are happy. It’s an SMT game in ENGLISH. Atlus fans are happy. There are very few bad Atlus RPGs. And this certainly isn’t one of them. It’s got the Pokemon thing going for it, and it looks cuter than a game about Satan and demons saving the multiverse should be, so it appeals to all ages with that Big E on the cover. And it’s a damn good RPG in terms of the engine, and probably the best non tactics game for the system other than Lunar Legends.

So why won’t Demikids fly off the shelf?

Two reasons. The first is that it is cute. It looks like a Kids game. But it sure as hell isn’t. It’s a satire. A Parody. But most video game fans lack the ability to appreciate the subtle or sublime. And the fact there are cutsey demons on the cover may drive people away. Especially with the lame as hell name. Demikids? Even I hate the name!

The second factor is the fact that Atlus is shit at marketing. In Japan, they are a juggernaut. Here, Atlus of USA can’t pull their heads out of the sand long enough to properly market their games. Ogre Tactics, Disgaea, Persona, River City Ransom, Hell Night. The list goes on. Atlus hands down has the best constant track record for making good quality games. But their marketing team makes Sega look brilliant! Come on Atlus! Because you haven’t blitzed the casual gamers with how great your games are, they sit on the shelf and collect dust.

And because no one knows the game is out. Because no one will buy a game with a stupid name and some anime graphics unless they’re really trusting, the game will not sell. People will see it, and the vastly inferior Final Fantasy Tactics and they’ll go for that. Name recognition is a GOOD thing. Atlus could have at least called it Shin Megami Tensei Demikids. That would have helped a bit! Even EBGAMES markets the game as ‘A Shin Megami Tensei Game.’ People, even casual gamers seem to know what MegaTen is! Jesus Atlus, LEARN TO PROMOTE!

Sorry. Pissed off rant over.

Appeal Factor: 4/10

Miscellaneous

Well, it’s the best game non tactics game out for the GBA other than Lunar Legends. Natsume’s new RPG has promise however, and so does Fire Emblem. It’s a MegaTen game being reviewed by possibly the only person who doesn’t speak Japanese as his frist language and who has either been assonine or insane enough to buy and play every MegaTen game that he’s been able to find. I love this series. LOVE it. After Sakura Taisen, this is the best video game series in the history of video gaming. And you’re getting a B-Level version of it. And it’s being reviewed by a person who has seen the best this series has to offer, and is thus jaded. So realize whatever I give Demikids as a final rating, the rest of the crew will probably give it an even higher score.

Demikids packs it all into a tiny cart though. Great graphics. Hundreds of monsters to kill, collect, mutate and persuade. Ways to interact with friends. A decent story. There is nothing that Demikids does bad at all. Seriously. The worst thing you can say about Demikids is that it came over here too little too late when the other games that had copied the Megaten style had already invaded the US shores. It’s sad when the king comes to visit only to see wave after wave or pretenders assume the throne.
But then I’m jaded. And used to MegaTen games. You guys aren’t and that’s why I strongly urge you to pick up this game. Because it doesn’t do a thing wrong. At worst it maintains the status quo. At best it shows you what Japanese RPG’s can be like. And it gives you a taste of something that might never cross to US shores again.

But most importantly, Demikids Dark and Light are two DIFFERENT games. This isn’t like Pokemon here. They have different monsters, different plots, different main characters, and even completely different ways to fuse monsters! They are for all intents and purposes, two different games. Not in the same way Eternal Punishment and Innocent Sin were two totally and utterly different games with the Persona 2 Heading, but different enough that buying them both won’t feel like a sleazy marketing ploy.

For me, it’s just another MegaTen. For all of you, it’s a step into a whole new world of gaming. And one I wouldn’t advise you to pass up. Like it or not, this is the closest to a classic we’re getting from the SMT line other than Persona for a long, long time.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Welcome to MegaTen boys and girls. I suggest picking up Light first, as it’s an easier game and has less of a learning curve. Dark is step two. And then you’ve experience Shin Megami Tensei lite. However, I gotta be honest, as nifty as it is to have an SMT game in English, I’d still suggest spending your money on Persona 1,2 or Lunacy in terms of the plot and overall coolness of the games. However, all three of those games take a lot of thinking and the ability to appreciate a lot of metaphysical, mythological and religious philosophy. However, if you just want a good RPG with lots of kick ass looking playable characters, this is your game. Although you’ve played many games like SMTDC: DOD, make no mistake: this is the series that revolutionized RPG’s. It may not seem like it because it’s gotten over here so late, but pick it up, You’ll find those new to the series will give it a much higher rating than I have. And in truth, those are the eyes you should view Demikids through. Not Mine.