Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (Nintendo 3DS)

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 08/23/11

So, way back in June of 2009, Atlus brought Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor to the States, and there was much joy to be had in the land… for those who like the Shin Megami Tensei series and/or strategy RPG’s, anyway. It was a rather inventive game that took a lot of the basic concepts from the franchise and used them in new ways (well, new ways for the US market anyway), and while the game held to a lot of the older conventions of the genre (in other words, here there be grinding), it was an innovative and interesting take on the genre. Two years and change later, Atlus is bringing the US market an updated release of the original game, dubbed Devil Survivor Overclocked, both in preparation for the sequel due out early next year and because they’ve gotten into a habit of re-releasing updated versions of their games, for good or ill. The big hyped addition to Devil Survivor Overclocked is the 8th Day scenarios that have been added to the end-game, which adds some extra storyline to the game for fans of the original, but there’s a good bit more to this remake than some added end-game content. Devil Survivor Overclocked is by no means a new and exciting release, but it certainly is a much improved release over its predecessor in several ways, and as such, it makes a fairly compelling argument for its purchase, if not an instantly agreeable one.

The plot of Devil Survivor Overclocked remains largely unchanged from the original; you play as the protagonist of customizable name as he and his two friends, Yuzu and Atsuro, are trapped in Tokyo when the SDF locks the whole city down. The SDF explains the lockdown as an issue with poison gas in the train tunnels, but it becomes instantly apparent to your group that there’s more going on when the three COMPS (handheld gaming consoles that look like a DS) your cousin Naoya gave you start summoning demons, because, well, that doesn’t happen every day. It turns out that the otherwise insane religious cult in the city, the Shomonkai, have decided that the internet represents another biblical trial along the lines of the Tower of Babel, and have decided to use it as a test against humanity. For those who don’t know, the story of the Tower of Babel is basically meant as an explanation in the Bible of why multiple languages and cultures exist; humanity, united in language, gathered together to build a tower to reach the heavens, God said “Uh, no”, mixed up all the languages and cast humanity across the world, more or less. The Shomonkai feel like the internet has basically become another Tower of Babel, uniting humanity in communication and scope, and they figure that this is going to start another test from God, so they set up the COMPS, distribute them to their followers, and go around fortelling said test until it actually happens. Naoya, however, hands off the three COMPS to your little group because he has his own plans for how this should all go down, and he figures that you’ll be instrumental in making this go the way he wants…

The plot of Devil Survivor Overclocked is still as exceptional as ever for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being the sheer amount of depth and plot twists that come up. Early on you’re introduced to a handful of characters who go through RADICAL character evolutions as the plotline progresses which all make completely perfect sense in context but are all very interesting to see nevertheless. The game also kind-of sort-of references the old style Devil Summoner games (pre Raidou Kuzunoha), specifically Soul Hackers, which is a nice nod to the five players in the US who have any idea what the hell that is… though, obviously, it was more for the Japanese market, but it’s still nice to see, shut up. As is normal for the core Megaten titles, there are also a good amount of endings to see, and Devil Survivor Overclocked also adds in four 8th Day scenarios, though of the five endings from the first game, only three have said scenarios (one has a branching point), so not all of the endings have that option. Still, the endings are more defined and unique than the multiple endings in, say, Persona 4 (defined as two “YOU FAILED” endings, one “YOU DID OKAY” ending and one “YOU’RE AWESOME” ending) and are more in line with something like Nocturne or Strange Journey. The only bad thing one can say about the plot is essentially the same bad thing one can say about ANY of the core or directly associated Shin Megami Tensei games: if you’re even a somewhat faithful Christian you might take exception to how Yahweh is presented. Granted, he’s far less of a dick this time around than in, say, Nocturne, as it seems like Atlus Japan is kind of realizing that releasing their games in the US with that interpretation of God is probably not going to fly very well, but he’s still not particularly nice or anything. Now, yeah, a game where you summon demons is by nature probably not going to appeal to that sort of person anyway, but for those of you who do have strong religious convictions AND play video games, this may be something you want to keep in mind. Alternatively, if you’re an atheist I probably just sold you the game sight unseen, so, you’re welcome, I guess.

Atlus has cleaned up the visuals in Devil Survivor Overclocked for its 3DS release, and a side-by-side comparison shows that the graphics, while not dramatically better per say, are cleaner and higher resolution than in the original. The visuals in general are solid, featuring good quality sprite-based visuals in the strategy segments, clean and useful interface menus and high quality artwork in the battles and character dialogue sequences. However, there’s still no animation to the battles to speak of, and the game makes almost no use of the 3D component of the game, save for the opening cutscene, more or less. The game takes advantage of the greater storage space of the console in other ways, however, starting with full voice acting for most every conversation in the game, which is fantastic. The voice work is pretty good, as is an Atlus standard at this point, and the addition of voice work to the game (reportedly the largest amount of voice work Atlus has produced for a game yet) gives the remake some nice personality. The music in the game is as good as ever, and while it’s largely the same music from the original release, that doesn’t make it any less high quality or anything, as it’s still fitting and fun to listen to. The sound effects and voice effects for the various demons you face are also very good, and while it would have been nice to see some more involved voice acting for the demons, one can draw the conclusion that demons in the Shin Megami Tensei world are basically like slightly more verbose Pokemon and that your COMPs allow you to translate the intent or something similar, so it’s not too problematic.

If you’ve not played Devil Survivor in its previous release, the game is essentially a turn-based strategy game where you control various teams, consisting of one main human (usually) leader and two demon followers, as your teams attempt to beat the hell out of the opposing teams, which can be all human, all demon or something in-between. You can use the stylus to move characters and make selections from the menus or use the D-pad to move characters and move through menus and press buttons to select things from the appropriate menus, so whichever control style appeals to you most, you’re welcome to use. In battle, the D-pad moves through menus and moves around the map to place characters, A confirms choices, B cancels choices, X lets you view the stats and movement ranges of groups, and the triggers let you flip through displays of character/enemy stats on the top screen. When in the game world menus, the D-pad, A and B buttons work identically, while the Y button allows you to bring up a clock to skip time (though you’ll likely never want to do so), and the X button brings you into the game menu, where you can perform various functions and customize things. In battle the controls are as responsive as one can expect, and navigating the menus and such, both in and out of combat, is simple and intuitive, and the menus are well laid out and uncluttered for the most part, so Devil Survivor Overclocked is by no means a difficult game to play or learn, mechanically speaking.

But the devil’s in the details, so to speak, and Devil Survivor Overclocked has plenty of details to make it interesting. The game is divided into seven or eight total days (depending on the paths you choose), and the days essentially go through the same basic path. At the beginning of each day, you receive a “Laplace Mail”, which will spell out some of the more important events of the day, detailing the times of the event and the expected events themselves, most commonly revolving around the death or one or more people. At this point, the characters will then go through the particular day, visiting various locations throughout Tokyo in an attempt to resolve the issues presented in the Laplace mail, extend their own lives, and hopefully escape the Tokyo lockdown. The point where it’s noted that you’re attempting to extend your party’s life isn’t an obvious general concept, however; each character you meet will generally have a small, circular ball over their head with a number in it, your party included. This number indicates the amount of days said character has until they die, your team included, and while nearly everyone you meet has the same time in their indicator, several characters do not… your team included. You’ll be confronted with several inescapable situations where you’ll have to fight for your lives to survive, as well as several situations where you’ll have to help others survive, though not all of these situations are required; based on your choices, some plot important characters can die, closing off their routes forever, so making the right choices is also crucial if you want them to see things through to the end.

When you’re not in battle, you’re generally given a list of all of the obvious locations in Tokyo that you can visit, each of which will have various activities you can perform there. Most will offer you the ability to look around, listen to random conversations, and talk to your team with no penalty, and a few will also offer free battles (in normal and hard forms) for leveling up and earning skills, also at no penalty. Various locations throughout the day will also offer up interaction points that burn thirty minutes, however, which either allow you to interact with a character to advance the plot or a sidequest, or send you into a plot important battle of some type for the same reasons. Many of these conversations or battles offer up basic interactions that can potentially affect which routes are available to you in the end game, so in addition to making sure you keep people alive, you’ll want to keep them happy as well (though Yuzu’s route is always available so you can be a jerk to her without feeling bad about it). Many of the events appear and disappear with the passage of time, though, so you’ll want to pick the best possible events at the best possible times, whether you’re looking to open up all of the routes in one go or looking to open a specific route per playthrough or specific sidequests in your game.

From the location menu you can also press X at any time to bring up the main menu, which allows you several features on your COMP that are of value. You can check your E-mails on the COMP, which include the Laplace Mail as well as various tutorials if you need advice, as well as customize options and save your game from here. You can also customize your parties from here, choosing which human leaders and demons go in which parties, as well as customize the skills each human party member is equipped with. Your human allies are all blank slates, with no elemental strengths and weaknesses associated by default, though each has their own stats that determine what they’re best at. You can assign skills to them, either by gaining the skills from “Cracking” them in battle by having a party focus on killing an enemy with the skill to learn it for yourself, or through other means. Each character can equip three active spells, three passive abilities, and one special skill. Active spells can be cast in battle (if offensive) and during normal turn actions (if supportive), while passive abilities are cost free and “always on”, allowing the character passive bonuses like counterattacks or elemental resistance or what have you. Special skills are generally unique between human summoners and demons, as demons get some type of unchangeable racial skill, such as mass healing or flight or something similar, while humans get abilities that improve the performance of the party in some way, such as boosting defense or offense or something similar. You can mix and match these skills on your party members prior to battles or from the main menu whenever you wish, depending on what sort of character layout you need at the time.

The game also offers you access to an auction house from the main menu, which allows you to bid against CPU bidders for the services of the auctioned demon, assuming you don’t buy said demon outright… or said demon doesn’t try to screw you after the fact. You can also get access to a second tier auction house for better, albeit more expensive, demons, and the selection changes after you perform time consuming actions in the game, so the selection changes constantly. You’re also offered a fusion menu that allows you to fuse two demons together to make a third, more powerful demon (in theory) with improved stats and skills combined from the resulting demon and the skills you’ve chosen to inherit from the fused demons, so you can use old crap to make new hotness. You can also choose to search for demons that you can fuse from a list, based on type, level and other such things, so you can see what’s available to you at any time and try to see if it’s possible to fuse something neat… or see what you have to look forward to, as the list often scales a few levels above what you’re able to fuse at the time.

When you DO eventually get into battle, combat is actually fairly simple to work with. You gain control of whatever character is first in line, at which point you can move the character around, cast spells, attack nearby enemies, and interact with nearby NPC’s and objects if the situation allows for this. Once you jump into a battle, the game switches to a standard RPG combat menu, where your party meters show up at the bottom of the screen, the enemies show up in the center, and their meters show up at the top of the screen. You can dictate the actions of each character, choosing the things you’d like them to do from the menus, and once you’re done, everyone takes their actions if possible and combat moves on. The goal, of course, is to deal the most damage possible while taking the least, and while you can just lump on enemies and hope for the best, in ideal circumstances you’ll want to target the elemental weaknesses of foes. Each enemy USUALLY has elemental strengths and weaknesses, with the weaknesses being easily identified as “Wk”, though strengths can either be identified as “St” (Strong), “Nu” (Null), “Rf” (Reflect) or “Dr” (Drain), each of which is fairly self-explanatory. In a best case, you can try to hit the weaknesses of the enemy or land a critical hit, which will potentially give you “EXTRA TURN” status, allowing you a second action in the battle; in a worst case, you can hit a point that the enemy’s not strong in and deal some damage. The enemies can do the same, however, so they can also gain an extra turn, and in some cases, demons and leaders may start with an extra turn already in place… though hitting their weakness or a critical hit can rob them of that. Killing the leader of the party immediately takes the party out of the battle, so assuming the allied demons don’t have skills to protect the leader, this can be a good way to quickly end a fight, but you get more experience and Macca (money) for killing all of the members of a party, making for some solid risk/reward options in battle. When your character is exhausted or you choose to end the turn, play goes to the next person in line. There’s a turn meter at the top of the bottom screen that shows you the present turn order, so you can see who will be going next, as well as how far back in the turn list your character will go based on their current action, so you can plan ahead in battle as needed.

All of this content is already in Devil Survivor, of course, so fans of the original game know this already. Let’s talk about the new stuff.

Aside from the 8th Day scenarios and voice acting, the biggest new change, and probably the most friendly for newer players, is the addition of an Easy Mode. This rewards you with more experience and Macca in battle, and seems to also make the battles somewhat less challenging, so even players of limited strategy skill can make progress. It’s nowhere near as easy as the easy difficulty in something like Persona 4, though, so you’ll have to pick up some skills along the way, but it makes the game a lot easier to take in some of the more challenging battles at least. The game has also added a Demon Compendium, so you can re-summon older demons you’d like to use for fusing or whatever, as well as register your current demons for carrying over to a new game. There are also new Skills and Demons added to this release, so there are more tools for you to use in your quest to complete the game, and since they’re spread out throughout the game and not just stuck to the end game content, you’ll start seeing this new content from the start. There are also THREE save slots this time around, so you can make multiple saves or let someone else try the game without overwriting your progress, for those that wanted this thing. Finally, the game now offers a Title system, which you can essentially think of as an Achievement system of sorts. As you accomplish various tasks in the game, from something as simple as seeing a particular plot event to something as complex as cracking every skill in the game, you earn a Title associated with this. Each Title carries with it points that can be invested into unlocking things for your New Game Plus session, so you can dump points earned from your actions into, say, carrying over demons into the new game, carrying over your skills and Macca, removing the Fusion Level Limit when fusing new demons, and so on, which actually gives incentive to play the game over instead of just starting from one save to earn all the endings.

An average session with Devil Survivor Overclocked will probably run somewhere between forty to fifty hours, depending on the sidequests you complete, the ending you choose, whether or not the ending you choose has an 8th Day scenario, and so on. As such, there’s plenty of depth to any one scenario in the game to begin with. Each scenario also offers unique demons you can only earn in the final chapter, as well as unique Titles you can only unlock from completing that scenario, so there are plenty of reasons to go through the different scenarios in full. The Titles system is also an excellent addition to the game, as it gives the player even more incentive to go through the game multiple times to really boost their characters and earn all of the summons and titles available, whether they’ve played through the original or not, to build the best possible team available. If you really enjoyed the original, never made a lot of progress in the original, or just never played it to begin with, Devil Survivor Overclocked offers a lot of good reasons to pick it up, and there’s a lot of value crammed into the cartridge that makes it a quality acquisition.

However, and this is important, it’s still a re-release of a two year old game on a console that can play the original game, which you can get for thirty bucks or less brand new from Amazon.com and other locations. This is an issue for two reasons. First, if you HAVEN’T played the game already, or you couldn’t do much with the original for some reason, Devil Survivor Overclocked is likely worth a ten dollar price difference… but it’s harder to justify a twenty dollar difference or more (depending on where you get it from), and it’s massively difficult to justify buying a whole new system for this game if you have a DS but not a 3DS. Second, if you HAVE played the game to completion already, you’re basically shelling out another forty dollars for the same game with some new content and tweaks, and while this will be fine for diehard fans of the game, if you’re not one of those fans, well, you’ll be playing the same game over again multiple times to see all the new content. Sure, you’ll get access to the new 8th Day scenarios and Demon Compendium, and Easy Mode… but you’ll also have to buy all of the benefits you got for free from New Game Plus in the original, and unless the cleaned up graphics and voice acting are a huge plus for you, you can just look up the endings online and save forty bucks. Also, aside from the cleaned up visuals and the voice acting, the game doesn’t take advantage of the improvements on the 3DS hardware, as there’s nothing here that’s dramatically improved over the original game; no combat animations have been added, no 3D effects have been employed, and nothing significant has been changed on a technical level to make the game a good representation of what the system can do.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked is basically an excellent remake of a great game, but it’s an excellent remake of a great game that’s only two years old, so unless you’ve missed the original or are jonesing for more, it might be a hard sell to convince yourself that you need to spend another forty dollars on a couple new endings and features. The story is still absolutely fantastic, the graphics are cleaned up somewhat and still look quite good, and the audio is even better thanks to some solid voice acting and the excellent effects and tunes from the original. The game is still very easy to play and understand and is still plenty deep and engaging, and Atlus has added in some very useful features, like multiple save files, an Easy difficulty, a Demon Compendium and more to make life easier for players all around. There are multiple endings to see in the game and with the new Title system, there are plenty of rewards for completing the game multiple times, so fans and newcomers alike will have plenty of reason to come back to the game. The game doesn’t really take advantage of the capabilities of the 3DS, though, and it’s essentially the original game with some new gimmicks added that, while nice, aren’t going to justify another forty dollars to someone who already owns the original, especially when the original can be acquired for less. Devil Survivor Overclocked is certainly a great game, and if you’re a diehard fan of the original or a newcomer with no experience it’s easily worth its asking price; it’s just going to be a harder sell for anyone who’s already wrecked the original game in the first place.

The Scores:
Story: CLASSIC
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: GREAT
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked is a solid update to an excellent game, and features some solid additions that absolutely make this the definitive version of the game… but if you’ve spent your time and money on the original, it’s hard to justify another forty bucks on what’s offered here. The story, audio and gameplay are still excellent and the graphics are still pretty good, and for those who have missed out on the game, the game’s easy to learn and very well presented. There’s also a pretty good amount of content, between new storyline endings, an Easy difficulty, voice acting, and several new tools to add to the arsenal of the characters that improve the experience, and between the multiple endings (old and new) as well as the new Title system, there’s plenty of reason to come back to the game again and again. However, the game doesn’t use the capabilities of the 3DS, aside from its storage space, for much, and while the game is much improved, the improvements are largely either cosmetic or minor and aren’t going to make a compelling case to someone who wrecked the original release. Make no mistake, Devil Survivor Overclocked is an improved version of an already excellent game and if you’ve not played it or were itching for more, it’s an easy game to recommend… it’s just going to be hard to justify purchasing the game to someone who’s done everything there is to do with the original release.

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