Nintendo’s 3DS is seemingly the home for role-playing games right now. The remarkable Fire Emblem Awakening was recently released alongside Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and around Christmas time we had Paper Mario: Sticker Star. With Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked we now have a JRPG that is a tactical RPG, much like the aforementioned Fire Emblem. Atlus must have seen the state of the games catalogue on the Kyoto-based company’s multi-dimensional handheld as after two years they have finally seen fit to release this into Europe. Even odder is that the 3DS version of the game is itself an upgraded revision of the original DS release from 2009. So after four years of waiting European gamers can finally get to experience the charms of this release in the Megami Tensei series, and thankfully that wait was worth it.
The story being told is unsurprisingly a little bit wacky. You play the seventeen-year-old hero (or protagonist as some will know him) and are just hanging out in Tokyo one day with some friends. Soon enough you’re given handy portable computers (COMPS) - looking remarkably similar to the 3DS you’re playing on - from the hero’s older cousin. Very quickly Tokyo is invaded (or something) by various demons and using your COMPS you and those with you can fight and defeat the various demons in turn-based combat. The game then plays out over the course of seven days, during which you and your friends learn what exactly is happening, why there’s an outbreak and so on. The reason for the seven days? By the time they are up everyone in Tokyo’s quarantine zone will be dead. Playing through the game your choices will guide you towards one of six endings, providing plenty of replay value if so desired (although one playthrough will take around forty hours for most players). It’s all really rather engaging and although it touches on themes we’ve seen many times before, Atlus manage to keep everything tied together from start to end regardless of the personal choices and success or failure in battle. Whilst this title has the Shin precursor, it’s a spin-off game which doesn’t make overt reference to Shin Megami Tensei - it’s a spin-off.
Helping the story along are the various cast members you journey with throughout the game, or meet at various junctures. There are childhood friends who have the hots for you, cosplayers, gang leaders, government workers, father figures and many more. Each has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies and conversations with them are text-based as well as spoken (English language) if you choose to have that setting on - the voices are what you’d expect from such a game, sounding like some Saturday morning kids’ TV show and after a while they will grate despite the general quality of the voice acting.
This updated version of the DS game brings with it quite a list of enhancements. Brilliantly the visuals are spiffing, although they are still static screens for the most part outside of battle. The resolution has been upped making things look crystal clear on the lower screen and colours are vibrant and varied. Character art is always interesting too given the large cast of characters and the one hundred and fifty demons this time around as opposed to the one hundred and thirty originally. Battles are fought in an isometric perspective and work fine from a graphical perspective. The previously mentioned voice acting is new to the 3DS version and is a fine addition for the most part. The only possible downer here is that there’s no use of the top screen and therefore no 3D. Short of rewriting the whole game or utilising 3D for the sake of it Atlus couldn’t do much more; some may find the lack of 3D galling but to us it’s a rarely used feature anyway and not something we ever missed. The final change is the pièce de résistance, mind. A whole extra day has been added here by Atlus giving you an extra chunk of content to see what happens after the seven days are up. Not every ending allows for this though, so if you’re playing through specifically for the eighth day to see what happens, be wary of this.
The game plays out with you talking to NPCs, reading emails and suchlike through your COMPS and battling demons, with the aim of meeting various success criteria and avoiding the things which could lead to failure. Each human in your roaming party will lead a squad into battle where the other squad members are actually demons fighting for you, as opposed to against you. In a given turn you can move, attack and possibly even do something else funky like heal your squad or buff an attack before going for the jugular. What you do is up to you and is guided by your playstyle and the stats surrounding you. You might want to end the battle and move on, so going in for the main bad guy straight away. You might want to grind some experience, and macca and therefore will kill everything in sight. Macca is used to purchase new demons to take into battle with you. Combat is incredibly varied dependent on who is in your team, what demons you have and the size/shape of the arena for a given battle. They can take minutes and hours at a time to complete and are pretty unforgiving what with the instadeath when a squad leader goes numb, or if you fail in anyway (restart the battle - no checkpoints here). Whilst challenging it’s incredibly satisfying when you succeed in what you set out to do. Story-driven battles are unavoidable of course but there are plenty of other ones which if chosen to play out will reward you with more experience and so on, theoretically making things more straightforward as you move on. Ultimately it’s no more troubling than Fire Emblem Awakening and equally enjoyable.
If you’re a fan of JRPGs and have a Nintendo 3DS this is a game you’ll want to play. It’s a true JRPG with monsters and dialogue and unnatural physiques and crazy stuff happening but it’s all done really well with deep and varied combat allowing for all kinds of different playstyles and outcomes. The choice throughout is magnificent allowing for various branching late on and whichever route you take you’ll be satisfied. But it’s not perfect by any means. It can get repetitive once you’ve set your team up well and know how you want to approach any given battle. The voice acting should have been in Japanese really and at heart this is a four-year old DS game emulated with some extras on a different handheld. The battles are challenging too, and unforgiving in some cases but not always with a feeling of it being fair. The length of the game represents good value but if you want to see all the endings it gets a little unreasonable. Finally if you aren’t a JRPG fan this isn’t going to win you over because of the above, and is therefore not the best starting place you can find.