Explode into Popularity
The Shin Megami Tensei series of games is probably, right now, the most popular RPG series that nobody I know has ever heard of.
OK, perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic, but this series doesn’t really seem to have broken through that barrier to “mainstream.” I mean, there’s a good chance that even your grandmother has at least heard of a name like Final Fantasy. Shin Megami Tensei just doesn’t have that kind of wide-spread awareness. Hell, it wasn’t until this past decade that the games even started getting more than niche attention among hardcore gamers in the West.
The series is a long-runner in Japan, with the first game, Megami Tensei, being released in 1987 on the Famicom. Despite a large number of releases following that, America wouldn’t see any games from the series until 1995, when Jack Bros was released on, of all systems, the Virtual Boy. Being that this was a puzzle game featuring Atlus mascots, one can argue that this wasn’t our first true exposure to the series.
That exposure would come with the 1996 release of Revelations: Persona for the PS1. Even in this case, the game was drastically changed for the American market, Westernizing character’s names and images, along with locations and cultural references. Still, it proved to be moderately successful, allowing more games to make the jump over the Pacific.
Despite a few more releases, including a main-series release in the form of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for the PS2, the series remained rather niche. This was all blown open in 2007 with the US release of Persona 3. This game boosted the image of the series, taking it out of its niche and gaining more popular attention from the RPG market. Nearly every series release since then has made it to Western shores.
Now, we bring our attention to the present. The newest release of the now-modestly popular Shin Megami Tensei series has come in the form of a remake. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is an upgraded 3DS port and remake of the DS game Devil Survivor 2. Developed and published by Atlus, Record Breaker is set to be released on May 5th, 2015.
Record Breaker carries on the modern fantasy tradition of Shin Megami Tensei games. Rather than taking place in some kind of fantasy world, this game takes place right here on Earth in modern day. To be specific, modern Tokyo. At the outset, we are introduced to our nameless protagonist and his best friend Daichi. Daichi has discovered an interesting website called Nicaea, which claims to send videos to users that show the moment of death of people that are close to them. Intrigued, the protagonist signs up for the website.
Soon after, while waiting for a train after school, we are introduced to our third main character and Daichi’s crush, the soft-spoken Io. After some small talk, and Io mentioning she has signed up for Nicaea as well, all three of them receive a video from the website. The video shows the three of them waiting for the train when the train derails and kills everyone in the station, including themselves. Almost immediately, an earthquake hits, and an oncoming train derails. The three manage to survive thanks to the video warning, but come to only to find themselves surrounded by demons.
So begins a rather dark story concerning the destruction of Tokyo, a seemingly-impending demon invasion, secret government agencies, and all other sorts of mystery and horror. You know, par for the course in a Shin Megami Tensei game. The series has never backed away from dark and occasionally controversial themes, and Record Breaker is no different.
The story itself is rather involved, with a number of well-played twists. The highlight, though, falls to the characters. Outside of main gameplay, the story is presented in a visual novel style, and the player has the option of which characters to spend time with. Each character has their own well thought out story, breathing life into each of them and bringing you to care for them as the game goes on.
As a remake, Record Breaker’s story is unchanged from the original DS release. Unique to this version, though, is a brand new story arc taking place after the original story. Once the game begins, you are given the option to play either the original story or the new arc made for this release.
Call on Your Army
The gameplay in Record Breaker can be roughly broken into two halves: battles and story. Sure, same can be said for just about any other game, but the split between the two parts is definitely noticeable in this game. The story segment is a major part of this game, and I would argue is even bigger than the battle segment.
The game takes place over seven days in-game, and just about everything you do takes a half-hour of in-game time. This strict limit means that you have to plan your time wisely, and it can come back to bite you if you do not do so. Each half-hour, you are given a choice of events to follow, usually a selection of characters to talk to and maybe a battle or two. While some of the character events are just used to strengthen your relationships with the characters, others are important to the story and must be seen, at the risk of losing a character or a shot at a good ending.
The fun part is, most of the time, the game does not explicitly tell you which of these events are important. You will have to pay close attention to the story and use that knowledge on deciding what to do and when. For those out there that ignore story in favor of getting to the gameplay, you’re probably not going to have a good time here.
Of course, you don’t just want to ignore the character events in order to focus on the main story. Building your relationships with the characters is integral to the game as well. One of Record Breaker‘s systems is the Fate System, where the stronger your relationship with the character, the more abilities they unlock for combat.
Building your relationship, though, isn’t as simple as talking to the characters. The protagonist is a silent one, and his responses are all determined by your choices. Selecting the right conversation choice will help build your relationship. Selecting the wrong one (or the hilarious one, which usually ends up being wrong, unfortunately) can be a detriment. Once again, these choices aren’t always obvious; you’ll have to really get to know the character to determine what the right thing to say is.
The battle half of the game is presented in a turn-based strategy style. You take control of up to four characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (aside from the main protagonist, who you can build however you wish). Each character is also able to take two demons into battle with him or her. You move each character along a tile-based map to complete each mission. When attacking an enemy, though, the game switches to a traditional Shin Megami Tensei-style first-person turn-based battle. In order to defeat a character on the map, you have to defeat their entire team within the turn-based battle. In general, it’s an interesting fusion of two kinds of RPG gameplay, and I think it works quite well.
Being a Shin Megami Tensei game, you have access to a large stable of demons to use in battle. Demons are obtained through an auction system, which is replenished and expanded between battles and certain events. Each demon has its own base specialties and abilities to bring to battle, and the number of options is extensive enough to be occasionally overwhelming. You’re not just stuck using base demons, though. Early in the game, you gain the ability to fuse demons together. Fusion creates and unlocks new demons to use, each with their own base abilities, and allows you to carry over your choice of abilities from their parents. The fusion system gives the player an extensive amount of customization, allowing them to modify their team to whatever kind of playstyle they wish, or the current battle demands.
The human characters, though, do not learn the same skills demons do…at least, not naturally. After a few missions, though, the “skill crack” ability becomes unlocked. This allows you to, at the start of battle, choose a certain target that has an ability you want for each character. If that character defeats that target, the skill becomes available for any character to use. For a system that sounds so simple, it adds yet another layer of complexity to battle. With all the the different systems running at once, battles can become very involved, without ever feeling like too much of a hassle.
Beauty in Destruction
Despite a few updates and a new story arc, Record Breaker is still a port of a DS game, and it is occasionally noticeable. However, this is not a bad thing, as even despite this, the graphics are quite well done. Demon designs are interesting, and run the gamut from cute to grotesquely horrifying. However, a number of them use the same designs that I’ve seen in multiple other Shin Megami Tensei games. The character designs are excellent as well (minus Io’s magical gravity-defying breasts) and quite expressive when they need to be.
The graphics in battle are quite good as well, and benefit from being displayed on a better system. The sprite-work of the characters on the map is well done, and it is easy to distinguish who is who, despite the sprites being a tad on the small side. The number of environments for battle is expansive and never gets boring to look at.
Sounds of Despair
Despite not having any standout tracks to my ears, Record Breaker‘s soundtrack gets the job done well. The tracks, for the most part, have a rock edge to them, and lean toward a dark and foreboding ambiance…quite appropriate for the kind of story this game has. The soundtrack does what it is supposed to: set and enhance the mood.
New to this remake, though, is voice acting. While the protagonist is silent, nearly every other line in the game is voiced, including minor and one-shot characters. While the acting for said minor characters can be hit-or-miss, the performances for the main cast are impressive. Each voice fits its respective character well, and the actual acting is strong and comes across as very natural. There’s not a single character’s voice that seems out of place. Out of the cast, though, I’d say Daichi’s acting is the most on point and entertaining.
A Glimpse Into the Future
It’s been quite a while since I’ve played an RPG as well put together as Record Breaker. Pulling together visual novel-style storytelling, turn-based strategy, and traditional turn-based battle gameplay into one package seems like quite a lot, but it is all executed so well. Add on the intriguing overarching story, excellent graphical style, well-complimenting soundtrack, and surprisingly good voice acting, and you have one killer game.
For as much as I nitpick games I play, I can’t come up with any real complaint other than something like “the soundtrack could have been even better.” Because of this, I am awarding Record Breaker what I believe to be the first perfect score I have given here at GamerEscape. Other than the fact that players who tend to skip story in games will have a bad time, I believe this is a game that every 3DS owner should have in their library.
~ Final Score: 10/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for 3DS. Photos from Atlus and Operation Rainfall