Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army mini-review

While Shin Megami fans in PAL region awaits patiently for Atlus and Koei to complete the PAL conversion of Persona 3, we will have at least one other game in their collection to kill time. Here is a round down on what to expect from Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army (hence forthwith be referred as Devil Summoner 3) the game with the longest title in PS2 history, also the quirkiest SMT game in recent history. Originally released back in April/May the title has taken some time to be hunted down, filtered into my collection, misplaced while moving, finding its way back into my collection and then finally getting played.

Devil Summoner 3 is a unique addition to the Megaten series as it is based in past: 1920s Japan during the fictional 20th year of the Taishō era in Edo (Tokyo) rather than the usual present or post-apocalyptic world. You play as Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th Devil Summoner from the Kuzunoha clan, whose job includes being a 17 year old student and more importantly works as an assistant detective at an occult agency known as Narumi Detective Agency, whose sole task involves investigating paranormal activities and inducing in Pokémon-like demon luring. The hero even has a talking sidekick cat. The game is divided into 12 episodes with each lasting 2-3 hours. As the title implies, Raidou has the power to summon captured demons. Demon actions can be controlled or left alone to its own device. Demons can also be summoned during exploration and each has their own unique abilities which Raidou can use to help his investigations.

Unlike main Megami Tensei games, Devil Summoner 3's battle combat system isn't turn based - it is action based! Encounters are still random, which makes for a slight jarring combat when experiencing the transition between exploration to battle mode. During combat Raidou is placed in an enclosed small open platform where the battle begins. You can tell that this isn't a speciality of Atlus as combat isn't as fluid as most action based games like Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry. Camera is your worse enemy here as the over head camera's lack of interaction can be detrimental to the enjoyment of the game. An option for third person shoulder camera would have been wise and would have made hacking and slashing a bit more enjoyable. You will have access to two types of weapons (a sword for close range and a gun) and combos can be activated. Ammos can be upgraded to include elemental bullets and demons can be cross-bred and fused to toughen them up.

The 1920s industrialisation and westernisation of Tokyo visuals style of the game is matched by yet another stylistic character design by series staple designer Kazuma Kaneko. The graphics however isn't as impressive and certainly won't win any awards, much less nominated in them (probably if it was released on the Dreamcast). The prerendered backgrounds does serves its purpose as it allows for our hero to investigate around and interview people as in most point and click adventure games though because cameras are fixed I often find the Final Fantasy X's fixed camera style as detrimental to the gameplay. Dungeons are none-existent as random battles occurs during investigations in normal areas and backtracking and revisiting previously visited area is a must. The music style is virtually unchanged from the one you get in Nocturne (Lucifer Call) and Digital Devil Saga series, which isn't a bad thing as the roaring guitar score has always been part of the Megaten lore.

Devil Summoner 3 is perhaps the most mainstream of Megaten titles, not without irony as the title itself is pretty none-mainstream (and corny). The accessibility is mainly down to the carefree (and funny) linear plot as well as the simplified battle system which makes the game rather easy though I am not sure if the overuse of terminology will help (Atlus needs to publish a lexicon). However this should not put off fans of Megaten proper because Devil Summoner 3 is fun though hardcore jRPG fans may loathe it purely from a gameplay point of view alone. Replayability is a none-factor as it has almost none, but it does have a New Game+ mode for completists. If you love RPG and have an open mind on where games can take you then Devil Summoner 3 should be considered (if you can find it - I know most shops don't stock them, if ever).

Now Atlus, with Bloomberg (of all news organisation) announcing Persona 4, please please at least let us play Persona 3 first.


PAL shoppers can get the title here where as NTSC gamers should import from Play-Asia.

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