The end of mankind: now in 3D!
I think that at this point, the apocalypse is probably going to underwhelm just about everyone. Think about this: we have so many movies, TV shows, books, comics, and, indeed, video games, that all focus around different ways of ending the world. Whether the goal is to stop that world from crumbling to dust or simply to watch it burn, the apocalypse is on everyone’s summer jam list; this summer will probably be no different than the last few. So really, its no surprise that melting polar ice caps and issues of overpopulation seem like small fry, when compared to giant demons emerging through cell phones and attacking an entire country. The ashen survivors of nuclear war will sadly hold no candle to a squad of anime stereotypes leading monsters, ghosts, and dog-people into battle with a bunch of elemental giants that look like if the Angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion were decorated for Christmas. Time to download a cool demon-summoning app, call up a team of creatures to take on the end times, and hop into battle against the forces of endless darkness.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is an absurdly long name that will ring familiar to anyone who played the original Devil Survivor, either in its first home on DS or in its 3DS port, Devil Survivor OverClocked. Record Breaker, similarly, is a 3DS port of DS swansong Devil Survivor 2. This new game not only keeps alive all of the content from its original iteration, but gives players a whole new campaign to enjoy in addition. One half new and one half old, Record Breaker has a lot to offer.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker puts players in charge of a group of Japanese high school students caught in the middle of a disaster. An earthquake hist Japan, its coming signifying the emergence of demons all over the country. The three teens are all users of Nicaea, a phone app that self-updates with videos of peoples’ deaths. When the demons emerge, the app’s second purpose emerges, becoming the channel through which its users summon demons of their own into battle. As a series of larger and extremely powerful demons known as the Septentriones descend upon Japan, the heroes will descend deep into the mystery of what has happened to the world. A mysterious government agency, a whole slew of friends to join the group, and even more await in the ruins of the land of the rising sun.
Record Breaker’s gameplay is grid-based tactical strategy, similar to something like Fire Emblem (no, this isn’t the crossover game, that’s something else). Everything moves in turns, with characters and enemies all getting assigned places in the order according to their speed and status conditions. Up to four squads can be controlled by the player, each containing a human leader and two accompanying demons. Human characters are all nearly equal in versatility, but certain stat differences will determine who is given what kind of role in a squad. Demons operate along the same rule of one operant leader with up to two other demons, but their numbers will vary from one battle to the next.
Once two squads have met in the battlefield, the gears are switched and the game hops into its old turn-based RPG Sunday best. Characters will deal all sorts of damage with their foes, such as physical attacks and elemental strikes, and some that consume small amounts of the users’ HP in order to get the job done. Characters will also have abilities usable outside of battle every turn, such as healing spells and more malicious options, like slowdown and binding effects. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the potential to gain extra turns if the weaknesses of their enemies are exploited.
Record Breaker could be described as a game that over-complicates itself, but also as one that gives the player every chance to make full use of those complications. Players can dish out any range and set of abilities to any characters and demons, within the limits set for them. Giving fire attacks to a little guy called Jack Frost is probably not going to fly, but a fairy decked out with wind and electric powers? You got it. Everything from different types of physical and elemental attacks, status attacks, passive abilities and more are all acquired through Skill Crack, a system allowing players to choose a monster with a specific desired skill to target. Each character on the battlefield can target one monster with skill crack, and that demon must be defeated by that character’s squad in order to obtain the skill. That skill can then be given to any character who can use it in the team customization menu, opening up the door for new strategies and team formations. Each ability obtained in this way can only be given to one character or demon at a time, though, so that in itself won’t be enough to build your team’s strength up to Luciferic proportions.
New demons are obtained through the Demon Auction, a virtual bidding house where players put their money up against that of NPCs in a fight to obtain new monsters. The strength and specific abilities of these demons may vary, but there will usually be a pretty steady variety available, a fact which leads directly into the game’s fusion feature. Anyone in need of stronger demons with more unique combinations of abilities can mash a pair of them together and see what happens. Creatures can inherit abilities from those used as material, and can come out with unique powers of their own. Now, it’s easier than ever to smash a tiny ice ghost with a devil in a jar, and produce a giant hairy dog with horns.
Record Breaker is a fast-moving game in terms of story. Players will find themselves traveling all over Japan, all in the hopes of fighting back the demons assaulting humanity. Along the way a total of 13 characters will be assembled under the players’ control, each with their own personality and backstory. Everyone from the frustratingly chill 20-something guy to the reclusive programming expert will have their own distinct personality, given life by voice acting new to the 3DS version of the game. In between battles and major story moments, a variety of conversations are made available with different characters. These are not only fun conversations with multiple dialogue choices, but also food for the Fate System. Similar to Persona 3 and 4‘s Social Link systems, the Fate System essentially gives players new bonuses by raising their friendship levels with different characters. Perks resulting from the Fate System can range from elemental resistances to exclusive new demons, and more.
Record Breaker‘s story is surprising in how engrossing it is. This is done partially through writing, as Nicaea’s death videos prompt the cast to attempt to save a series of lives, all while trying to solve the mystery of the demons and the unique and destructive Septentriones. The characters are all relatively trope-y, but none obnoxiously so. Everyone from Mr. Comic Relief to Mr. Enigmatic Dude with Silver Hair has value to the story, and to the team. The game pulls players in quickly, as the characters are roped into working alongside the mysterious JP’S agency, a group fighting demons and trying to contain the situation. This is all mixed in with the supernatural, as the game eventually comes to a head more in the spiritual side of its world than in the political.
However, most of what will keep players going in Record Breaker comes from the game’s sense of unique scenario design. Just about every level puts the characters in a slightly different type of situation. Some of these, especially during clashes with the game’s predominant bosses, are battlefield-related; one might involve avoiding a stationary, explosive foe lingering along a narrow pathway, while another could require the avoidance of a shifting column on the grid that gets regularly blasted by a giant ice lazer. Just about every level has something new to throw into the mix, all while shockingly never feeling jumbled or overcrowded with things to keep track of. This is complimented by a difficulty level in normal mode that is just high enough to remind players that they should probably do some grinding every once in a while, without killing the whole team in the process; just one or two of them. New to Record Breaker is an easy mode, for those more easily bruised by hideous shadow creatures and blue, half-naked cat girls.
Not quite as strong in the regard of level design is the second campaign that Record Breaker brings to the table. Upon startup, players are presented with a choice: would you like to fight against the Septentriones, or the Triangulum? Selecting the former will lead players into the campaign from the original version of Devil Survivor 2, while the latter will lead into a brand-new sequel story crafted just for Record Breaker. This second story reunites the characters against a new foe, but doesn’t quite achieve the same uniqueness in level design. While combat with some of the bosses themselves gets quite clever, it does so in a way that’s almost too difficult to be worth the effort. This new mode starts all of the characters out at level 25, and expects them to function with expert technique pretty early on. There’s also the issue of the new campaign’s writing, in which I’m pretty sure I heard what amounts to the exact same conversation held at least five times in the first couple hours. All that said, though, the core game is still as solid as it was before; just not as exceptional as what precedes it.
Presentation is a bit of a tricky subject when talking about a port, but Record Breaker actually has a fair amount to work with. Music is largely amplified rock, a style sort of similar to, again, the Persona games. The visual style is sprite-based, with detailed backgrounds and simple character sprites. Nothing about the visuals scream “old,” just stylistic; and it owns that style. The one objectionable part of the game’s design (other than Io’s weird shelf-boobs) is something that shows up in far too many Shin Megami Tensei games; namely, the recycling of old art for the demons. Everyone from human characters to demons have static, 2-dimensional images to represent them, and it is apparent that these are in different art styles, from different games. They’re the same repeat offenders seen in the first Devil Survivor, as well as Shin Megami Tensei IV and many others in the series. It wouldn’t be such a glaring blight if there weren’t so many demons whose art is entirely recycled form other games; but there are, so it is.
The real problem with the actual apocalypse is going to be how much more fun ones like Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker are by comparison. A charming cast enters an apocalypse ravaged by demons, and emerges blood-soaked but victorious. The battle system is well thought-out and complex, with a high capacity for personal strategy decisions by the player. Everything is customizable to those willing to clash with some demons and steal their powers, and put their money up to start bidding on baddies. Engaging and unique level designs will keep players going, always wanting to see what is thrown at them next. Mixing Shin Megami Tensei‘s turn-based RPG roots with the realm of the tactical grid, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker summons a great horde of creatures, ready to lead humanity to victory. I give it 4 giant alien invader demons out of 5.
Final verdict: 4/5
Available on: 3DS (Reviewed); Publisher: Atlus; Developer: Atlus; Players: 1; Released: May 4th, 2015 ; ESRB: T ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: this review was written based on review code provided by the game’s developer and publisher, Atlus.