Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
Tactics, Role Playing, JRPG
August 23rd, 2011
Atlus brings it's penchant for deep and rewarding RPG experiences to the 3DS with a re-release of its acclaimed DS game Devil Survivor. As part of the Shin Megami Tensei series we know we can expect demons and role-playing, but will the 3DS version be a different beast entirely?
You begin the game as an ordinary Japanese teenager. You, along with your two best friends, receive COMPs from your mysterious cousin Naoya. Upon turning on the COMPs you receive an interesting E-mail, one that predicts a death, a blackout and a lockdown. One by one the events in the e-mail come true. This is nothing compared to the true power of the COMP however, as a second program allows you and your friends to summon and contract with demons! To survive the government imposed lockdown you and your friends must band together with other COMP users amidst continuing social deterioration and panic. Question after question begins to unravel the true nature of the COMPs, your cousin's intentions, and a conspiracy by the Japanese government in hopes you might escape the horrific 7th day... when everyone trapped in the lockdown will die.
The most noticeable (and strange) detail about the graphics in Overclocked is the almost complete lack of 3D. Only the opening movie and the five second Demon Fusion animation support any kind of 3D display. In fact there are many times when the top screen isn't even used.
That very obvious gripe aside, the graphics have been improved slightly from the original. When characters appear on the tactics grid this is most evident. While the sprites aren't any more impressive than anything seen on DS or 3DS before they are noticeably more fluid and animated then before.
When not in combat the game is primarily based around visual novel style dialogue scenes. Fans of other Shin Megami Tensei games will immediately notice the difference in art design from earlier titles. The 2D anime style character art is more contemporary than games such as Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga and early Persona games. This wasn't a hang up for me at all as the new style is very nicely done and really helps express the characters they represent.
A big addition to Devil Survivor Overclocked is that of voice actors for the main cast. Non-central characters don't usually have voice and even main characters don't speak during free battles, but the addition of voice overs lends a lot to the experience. The voice acting is quality work and some of the voices are even recognizable from their work on other Atlus games.
Aside from the new vocal track, other sound effects include typical battle noises, magic sound effects and various demon noises.
The music in Devil Survivor Overclocked starts out similar to other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series. Fast paced rock plays during the turn based battle screens and a funky jazz-rock track plays on the tactics grid. Unfortunately, battles can last a while and because of that the music tends to get played out. In addition there is a gothic symphony track that plays in the Cathedral of Shadows for demon fusion, and a few poppy elevator music sounding tracks for the map screen, main menu, and demon auction.
Devil Survivor Overclocked has a very unique blend of Tactical and traditional turn-based RPG elements. Because of this you'll spend most of your time looking at one of two screens: the map, and battle.
The first, the map of Tokyo's "Yamanote Circle", serves as your main method of advancing the story. Several locations are listed on the bottom screen along with several actions that can be taken there. Examining the location, listening around, and talking to your party members are standard fare. Others like free battles, missions, and interaction with specific characters are usually based on the day and time you check the location, somewhat like Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Choices that advance the time will usually have a clock icon next to them just as exclamation points usually tip you off to battles. You can also pass the time from this menu, but as I'll get to later it's hard to see why you would want to do that. Also, checking areas is almost completely unnecessary. Only once was I rewarded for my curiosity and it wasn't even that good of a reward. After awhile I simply stopped “listening in” at locations too, because it was as equally irrelevant to the game.
Conversations also spring from the "talking to party members" or more specific character interaction options. Conversations usually advance the story but be warned, interactions you have with other people do have a pretty profound effect on the side quests and party members.
When it comes time for Battle you're in for a treat. As I said before Overclocked has a very interesting real-time/tactics combat blend that really does give you the best of both worlds. Your overall party can consist of up to four party leaders (must be human) and up to two demons for each of them to command. On the tactics grid your party leaders can move spaces corresponding to their move stat. Aside from the various abilities demons and demon tamers can use on the tactics grid, battles can be initiated as well.
Once in a battle things begin to look more like a classic turn based combat system. Your party leader and his/her demon cohorts all have status boxes that appear at the bottom of the bottom screen and your enemies have the same displayed at the top of the bottom screen as well. Actions like attacking, using spells, or various abilities can be selected for each member of your team with any member of the enemy team as the target. The battles then play out in order of units with the highest speed first. The top screen during battles is used to display info on all those involved in the battle. You can see enemy’s abilities, weaknesses, resistances, and other basic info. This is especially useful as you can even generate an extra turn by inflicting a critical hit, resisting spells, and exposing an enemy’s weakness. This is the best, and only real use the top screen has. If no extra turns are earned it's back to the tactics grid for the next leader's move.
Once you get far enough in the game Skill Crack becomes available. Once, at the very beginning of a battle as you are selecting your units, you can choose skills possessed by the opposing team and choose one to "crack" by defeating them. You can crack any skill with any character regardless of whether or not they can equip that skill themselves, but if you crack one mid battle that character is able to use, you can add it on the spot. It actually took me awhile to realize I could crack skills I couldn't use and I don't recall being told through tutorials this was possible. That little hiccup aside Skill Crack can allow for some very powerful, highly customizable party members. But don't worry about your demons feeling left out, if you do well during battle a magnetite meter will fill allowing you to teach a demon in your party any usable skill (passive and reaction skills are off limits) you've cracked.
One thing that can be said about the game is its difficulty level can be challenging. The game really does expect you to take full advantage of free battles to level up. I learned this lesson quickly after being thoroughly torn asunder by bosses quite a few times. Even though it could potentially turn many casual gamers away I do think the difficulty and challenge represents a big selling point for RPG purists. After all, since when did a little level grinding ever hurt anyone?
While on the map screen you can access your menu by opening up your COMP. The handheld COMP given to you by your cousin allows for several features but they're not all available to begin with. You begin with the ability to manage your party, a few story related options, and e-mail. E-mail greatly affects the game as the "LaPlace mail" can be used to save the lives of your friends and party members. Also at the end of the day you can receive e-mails from other comp users, and reply to them as you choose. What you choose to say to whom can influence quest lines, so watch out!
Of course what is a Shin Megami Tensei title without demons! The Demon Auction, Demon Fusion, and Demon Compendium are also in your COMPs menu as well. The auction is straight forward enough. You can spend Macca to outbid other people for demons to add to your party. There are some tricks and the more you do it the better demons become available to you. Demon Fusion takes existing demons and combines them to create a different more powerful demon with attributes and abilities from both its ingredients. You can get some extremely powerful demons this way and it's the only way to get certain demons to learn certain skills or traits. It's definitely like breeding in Pokémon, it's not for everyone but the results are extremely rewarding. But what if you want to fuse but fusion requires you giving up your favorite demon? Well that's where the Demon Compendium comes in. You can "save" your demons as they are by registering them to the compendium and should you fuse them away you can "order" one exactly as it was registered by paying Macca. It's far more expensive than going to the Auction House but in many cases it's worth it.
Oh surely that's it right? Wrong! For those wanting to play the game again a new game+ system will allow you to carry over any of a number of possible things to your next playthrough, based on a sort of achievement system. You don't, and aren't supposed to know what these milestones are in the game but for each one you complete you get a certain amount of points you can use to purchase things to carry over. Things like carrying over a certain number of demons, cracked skills, and Macca are all possible given you've done enough in the game.
If you play enough Devil Survivor Overclocked it's pretty obvious there are multiple endings. Even with no new endings aside from those in the original game there are still six in total. Much like other western RPGs there are also many different outcomes to events, especially in the later days. It is nearly impossible to do everything in any given day, so who you choose to talk to and who you choose to help plays a big role in how the game progresses. This fact alone gives the game some excellent replay value, but paired with the games multiple endings, skills to crack, and demons to collect, it's safe to assume Devil Survivor Overclocked will keep you busy for a quite a while. I spent over 80 hours on a single playthrough, which for a handheld is an incredible amount of playtime, so when I say there is a lot to do in this game, I mean it.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked is a great game, don't get me wrong, but is not for everyone. The lack of 3D, or 3DS features of any kind for that matter, makes me wonder why this game was put on 3DS at all. The original Devil Survivor for DS released at $29.99; Devil Survivor Overclocked is $39.99. Despite an extra day, slight graphics improvement, and the addition of voice overs it just doesn't seem enough to justify that extra 10 dollars. No matter how great of a game this is (and it is) I feel that simple fact cannot be ignored. The game's incredible amount of playtime can either be a selling point or a complete turn off for those unwilling to sink vast amounts of time into the game. If you are a collector or a fan that needs that 8th day you'll be more than happy with Overclocked, I can guarantee that, but if you want an excellent tactics/JRPG at a lower cost you might consider picking up the DS original instead.