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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Impression

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
Platform: PS2
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus USA
Release Date: October 11th, 2006

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Set just after the Meiji Restoration, a period during which large swathes of Japanese infrastructure, culture, and politics were modernized, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner presents a world that mixes modern technology and ancient mysticism to produce a distinctly Japanese story. The player takes control of Raidou Kuzunoha, the fourteenth in a line of Devil Summoners responsible for protecting the capital city of Edo. Raidou is aided in this divinely appointed task by a demonic cat named Gouto, who serves as the silent protagonistís guide and inner voice; Shouhei Narumi, Raidouís boss at the Narumi Detective Agency; and Tae Asakura, a nosy freelance photographer. So far, the story has shown an interesting vision of historical Japan, similar in some ways to the Shadow Hearts seriesí take on alternate history.

"(Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner) takes a few interesting steps away from SMT tradition without completely abandoning series continuity."

The game opens by dropping the player into an introduction to the basic theories of demon summoning, in the form of Raidouís ritual test to become the 14th Devil Summoner. As he progresses through the trials, the player is introduced to Raidouís patron, the god Yatagarasu, and his envoy, the Herald of Yatagarasu. This section of the game ends rather swiftly, with Raidou being quickly pressed into service protecting Edo from rogue demons, under the cover of working for the Narumi Detective Agency. The very first case he takes drops Raidou into the midst of a demonic conspiracy involving illegal immigrants, bizarre red soldiers, and a strange young girl who demands that the Devil Summoner destroy her. The story so far has been a lot lighter than normal SMT fare, particularly considering the playful banter between Narumi and Tae, and Goutoís sarcastic running commentary.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner takes a step away from the combat system used in more recent entries to the series, exchanging the Press Turn system for real-time combat on a small preset battlefield. Raidou himself uses a unique combination of gunplay and sword fighting, using elemental bullets to stun enemy demons and open them up for critical hits before moving in to fillet them with his sword. At the start of the game, the player is allowed a maximum of six demons in their party, but only one can join Kuzunoha on the battlefield at once. Kuzunoha can also summon demons to follow him on the field, enabling him to use their unique abilities to solve puzzles and interrogate witnesses. In combat, demons act almost entirely on AI, though the player can guide them with basic commands, such as "Donít waste MP", or "Iíll leave it to you." Correctly directing your demonís use of elemental magic and abilities plays a huge part in combat, which is why the Demon Fusion system is so important. Quite beyond simply fusing demons together to create new, more powerful creatures, Demon Fusion can make existing demons more powerful, transfer demonic skills, or even improve Raidouís weapons. The most basic kind of fusion, called Binary Fusion, is more or less the same one used in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, though the game uses somewhat fewer classes of demon.

The game relies quite heavily on prerendered backgrounds with fixed cameras. In combat, this means that the relatively small field of play can feel very restricting at times. It does, however, allow for some realistic and reasonably detailed depictions of post-Meiji-era Edo, and provides an interesting backdrop for the hordes of pedestrians that inhabit them. Character design in particular reflects the curious social state of this era, depicting women in kimonos with bobbed hair, or businessmen in bowler hats and traditional Hakama. Monsters have undergone a bit of a redesign, with new models for old creatures, with dozens of demons appearing for the first time, most of them from traditional Japanese mythology. Although certain parts of the visual style feel somewhat unpolished, the game takes a few interesting steps away from SMT tradition without completely abandoning series continuity.

On the sound front, Devil Summonerís soundtrack feels very similar to that of earlier Shin Megami Tensei games, with a little extra Big Band flavor added. The game does not, however, include any voice acting, aside from one or two lines for demons in combat. Itís a bit of a disappointment given how animated and unique the main characters are, and contributes to the game's somewhat unpolished feel.

So far, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner has shown some interesting ideas and a fun cast of characters. Keep an eye on RPGamer.com for the full review as the October 11th release date draws near!

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