Devil Survivor Overblogged: day BEFORE

December 7th, 2012 by | Tags: , ,

I bought a Nintendo 3DS XL, Super Mario 3D Land, and Liberation Maiden. Since I’m me, I decided that two good games simply weren’t enough, so I asked Twitter to recommend me some games and googled around on my own for some recs. I eventually landed on Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. I like the SMT series, though I’m terrible at actually completing them, and having an RPG to poke at every once and a while is nice.

I don’t really read game news (it feels like homework), so here’s a list of things I knew about this game after I ordered it:
-It is in Tokyo.
-It stars teenagers.
-Shigenori Soejima probably didn’t design the characters.
-It is some type of RPG, possibly strategy.
-It is called Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked.

So yeah, I went in this so cold that I didn’t even really know the title of the game, despite having paid cash money for it. Now that I’ve played it, I more or less know the title — Didn’t Something Obfuscate? — and the gimmick. I’m not sure how this is going to shake out in terms of longevity, but I’ve got a chance to talk about this game and RPGs in general now so I’m going to take it. I’m going to do a piece per “day” of the game. This one’s rough, since I just decided to do it in the middle of my playthrough, but I think you’ll get something out of it.

Heaven or Hell, let’s rock:


Crew: I stole this from Wikipedia:
Designer: Shinjiro Takada
Artist: Suzuhito Yasuda, Kazuma Kaneko
Composer: Takami Asano

The only name I’m familiar with off the top of my head is Kazuma Kaneko. He’s been a designer for ages, and he’s done a few things I liked a lot, like the art for Maken X and a few other SMT games. I’m not sure why there’s no director or producer listed, and I don’t have the case for the game nearby.

Setting Up: One thing that kind of drives me crazy about these games is how long it takes to get going. I loved Persona 4, but there was about two hours of set-up, exposition, and world-building before you could do anything on your own. I vastly prefer games (and movies, and books, and and and) that throw you right into the middle of it. Hook me first, and then you can show me where I’m at in excruciating detail.

Devil Survivor Overclocked doesn’t take that long, but it does have a pretty long getting-to-know-you period. Twenty, thirty minutes, maybe? You meet your core cast, get a long-running gameplay tutorial that isn’t actually complete, and get to set out on your own at the end.

There’s no big hook early on, nothing that really wowed me and made me feel like I have to play more of this game. A lot of talking — well-acted, more on that later — and explaining, really. I feel like that’s a missed opportunity, especially for a portable game. But I’m used to it, and I figured that was the score going in.

I like that the game is split up into days. Catherine used a similar gimmick, and playing “day BEFORE” is actually kind of cool. There’s a sense of foreboding there that I hope they can follow-up on. I like games that start with apocalypses, and while DSO already missed that chance, they might make up for it when everyone dies on day one.

Idiotsyncratic: My go-to name for main characters in RPGs has been “black,” all lowercase, pretty much since Final Fantasy 7, my first real RPG outside of Zelda and Startropics. I don’t even remember why, but I’ve stuck with it. I think DSO is the first time I’ve actually had to include a last name for one of these dudes, and I swear it took me five entire minutes. I thought about doing something in Japanese, but didn’t want to google the main character’s canonical name in case. I didn’t have a lot of characters to work with, so I just bit the bullet, fulfilled an unspoken promise from 1997, and named my dude “black power.”

This is me, I guess. Live and direct in 2012. Get at me.

Visuals: The majority of the game is basically a visual novel, at least at this point. It’s not too different in approach from Persona 3 Portable, I don’t think, though not quite as hi-res. The non-combat sections are very visual novel in approach, but the combat is straight out of the Game Boy Advance visual library. It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s a curious choice. Surely the 3DS can do better?

Official art up above from Yasuda Suzuhito. That’s Yuzu, nicknamed Yoohoo (awesome), though she doesn’t wear that in the game. The character design is going to take some getting used to. It’s plainer, or maybe less fashionable, than Soejima’s stuff. There are other problems, too. Yuzu is distractingly busty. I don’t mean that in the “wow look at those boobs, those are great, I just can’t stop looking at those hypnotic things” sort of just-hit-puberty-and-saw-a-lady-in-a-lowcut-dress sorta way either. I mean Yuzu’s breasts are distractingly large, even when they’re hidden behind a text box. It doesn’t feel like good character design so much as “I bet we could make a grip off a few hug pillows and boobie-armrest mousepads.” It feels like cheap fan service. I’m all for sexy characters, but this is like… nah, son. Try again, kid. I’m sure the porn is grotesque.

I din’t understand the weird cables that black power (center) and Atsuro (top left) have, either.

Story So Far: Right, RPGs have stories. In this case, black power’s cousin Naoya gives the main cast three Nintendo DSes, called COMPs in-game, and is generally a myserious jerk about a coming demonic apocalypse. Your crew gets attacked by monsters and you realize that the world is much larger than you thought it was before. Naoya, however, continues being cryptic and weird.

I was kinda disappointed to see the cast break down like pretty much every other RPG’s cast. Yuzu’s the healer, black power can do anything, and Atsuro, the third member of the main cast thus far, is kind of in-between. Yuzu has the only sane response to the catastrophe (freaking out and wanting to go home), but when you compare Yuzu to black power and Atsuro, she looks shrill and very kind of stereotypically anime schoolgirlish. “Kyaaaa, this is all so dumb and scary and math is hard” sorta thing.

Atsuro, of course, takes everything in stride, and black power does whatever I want him to do. It’s nice that you have a chance to actually make decisions and talk to people in the visual novel portions. I assume that’s going to lead to some type of payoff toward the end of the game, but the choices thus far tend to be “I don’t know what’s going on, explain it to me” or “I know exactly what is going on, but explain it to me anyway.”

The writing is okay. The dialogue feels pretty natural and cool, but tends to lean on exposition a whole lot more than I’d like. Characters repeat things you read in an email or that you just heard, presumably for emphasis. It’s strange, but not insurmountable. I can see bursts of really solid writing peeking through, and I figure that feeling will only increase as I play more.

Spoilerwatch: I wanted to find images to illustrate this post, and in doing so, I tripped over the fact that a character I met on 1st day is going to try to kill herself soon. Thanks, internet!

Right now: I’m engaged and interested, but cautiously so. I trust Atlus and the SMT franchise, but it’s a little rocky to begin with. We’ll see where it goes.

つづく: More talk about boobs, a tighter focus on what I’m doing and how I talk about it, some actual gameplay talk, and a look at how time keeps on slipping, slipping.

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7 comments to “Devil Survivor Overblogged: day BEFORE”

  1. I played the orignal version for regular DS years ago. This game is pretty great once you get into the world… It does a great job setting a pretty neat atmosphere. especially once you get into the mystery of it.

    I ended up getting a “bad” ending, but it was such a fantastic downbeat ending for what I actually believe kids would do in that situation, I never wanted go back.

  2. “black power”

    Oh my god, that is amazing.

    I had some other comment to make, but I was thinking about black power too much. Oh, right.

    “I’m sure the porn is grotesque.”

    You can put that line anywhere and have it be true, but especially any art from Japan.

    I really love this game by the way. Turned based strategy and the general aesthetic of the bleaker MegaTen (i.e. not Persona 4) games both really light my fire.

  3. I finally got home from work, so I can comment on this!

    Kaneko is a phenomenal artist and designer – I’d say that SMT: Nocturne is his masterpiece – but he’s only listed here because so many of the demon designs are his, carryovers from previous entries. He had nothing to do with any current visuals. Instead, we got this new fella, whose breast-fixation is terrible and distracting here, and even worse in Devil Survivor 2, which I haven’t even been able to finish. :negativeman:

    (Fun fact: Kaneko designed Dante’s “Devil Trigger” demon form in Devil May Cry, I think 2? – as a thank you for letting them use Dante in SMT: Nocturne. To this day, he gets appropriately credited for that design – you can see his name, for instance, in the credits for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. How novel, continuing to credit the guy for that one element of the design…)

    I think the ramp-up in this was pretty well-paced, personally. You know how much time there is before shit goes down, and the following days (without spoilers) show a steady progression of things getting worse.

    People that are either into MegaTen already, or into cyberpunk stuff, might see a bit of a hook earlier on – the conversation with the guy about Babel and the internet is A) right out of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” and B) a sign of MegaTen returning to its cyberpunk-derived roots. It’s very much a classic-style MegaTen game in story (in the vein of the early SMT titles) with a Persona sheen laid over it.

    The downside of that, of course, is that the character designer chose to make “black power” and Yuzu look very directly inspired by the protagonist and Yukari Takeba of Persona 3. Atlus has very much started leaning harder and harder on fan service to prop up their franchise, far more than they ever had, and you can see a little of that here (much, much more so in the sequel). I blame Persona 4 for this, but whatever.

    You could argue, though, that the first-person “old school” style presentation of the battles is for this same reason. It’s how the earliest MegaTen games played. (Said early games also had “COMPs,” though they were wrist computers then, and are presented as DS systems here)

    On how the characters are used: They start you off with pretty “normal” character breakdowns so that you can get used to the system, but in the game’s latter half (no spoilers) you’ll have some more options for your group (depending on your choices) and many of them are far more specific in usage. Atsuro, though, will not stay very well-rounded for long.

    On dialogue choices: Persona 3 also did this, where some questions were inconsequential and some weren’t. I actually think Devil Survivor does a good job with this by the end, where it becomes less and less clear which choices “matter” and which way they’ll lead.

    Looking forward to part two!

  4. A lot of the game feels like throwaway concepts from other, better Atlus/SMT games. Press Turn from SMT Nocturne, reused monster art with no saving grace of original art because the main artist for Devil Survivor just ain’t that good. Used to do porn art like the guy who did Valkyria Chronicles’ art. The game is crap, at least in the sense that I think Atlus can do better.

    Maken X is dope, though. Hope Atlus revisits a Chinese setting again, since that game was some sci fi, kung fu movie joint with Pang Gu and Trigrams.

  5. Oooh right up my alley, apart from the breast stuff, but I’m used to looking through that. I’ve been playing Nocturne slo-o-owly for about four years but if it was portable.. time problem solved. The plainer design is a shame but it still has some of the Megaten elegance.

    I really really like the idea of playing ‘day BEFORE’. Spooky.

  6. @Claire:

    It’s a great game, in my opinion, but I’m not sure if much goes toe-to-toe with SMT: Nocturne. Maybe Persona 3, but they’re so different it nearly doesn’t count.

  7. Been a fan of yours for a while, but dropping Maken X? I’m upgrading to Stan status.

    What an awesome, excellent game.

    The second half of Devil Survivor works so much better if you don’t know much about it going in. I think you’ll dig it though, and it really is worth it to replay it. It can change pretty seriously based on your input.