I have to admit that Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Survivor Overclocked is a tricky game to review. It’s pretty much a direct port of SMT: Devil Survivor that was originally released in the US and Japan back in 2009, like many of ATLUS’s better games it’s taken a bloody age to make its way across the Atlantic.
If you hail from either of these regions and already own the aforementioned DS version, or like me imported it, Overclocked is a slightly harder sell as the game is nigh on identical, save for a few welcome gameplay refinements, some graphic and audio tweaks including the inclusion of voice acting and a new epilogue that annoyingly isn’t available for all of the games six endings.
3D is used incredibly sparingly, used only during the games new opening titles and during the cinematic when you fuse two demons together. Although it’s not the end of the world it’s a shame that more wasn’t made of the game’s presentation by making greater use of 3D during the game itself or including some new animated sequences like those found in Persona 4: Golden on the PSvita for some of the games more pivotal scenes, could have made for a much better port, as such it feels somewhat lazy, at least at least on the surface.
However what it lacks in presentation it more than makes up for in content, playability and by being such a damn fine game to begin with.
Another spin off of the rather prolific Shin Megami Tensai series, like the aforementioned Persona – Devil Survivor casts players as one of three high school kids who find themselves trapped in downtown Tokyo during a demonic invasion.
Luckily they have been gifted with mystical handheld games consoles called COMPs, basically 3DS’s which have the ability to communicate with, and employ their own demons to defend them, and hopefully escape the quarantine that they’ve become caught in.
The player character’s COMP also grants the ability for them to see ‘the death clock’ a number above a person’s head which states how many days that person has left to live, and it appears that our three heroes do not have long for this world.
In one final twist, the COMPs have also started receiving weird emails which predict the future, including details of our heroes’ inevitable demise.
If you knew where and when you were going to die, what would you do? Would you try and run from your fate or face it head on?
These are the kinds of questions that Devil Survivor asks and it’s almost entirely up to the player how they wish to answer them and more importantly, how they spend their remaining hours alive. Each of the games seven (or eight if you get the right ending) chapters are split up into 24 hours. Every action you perform takes half an hour; talk to a passerby, half an hour goes by, go to the park, another half an hour, check the train station, another half hour. The feeling of encroaching dread is palpable and the games superb script, now brought to life via new voice acting, helps to pull you into the game world further.
The only respite to be found is in free battles which take place all over the city, which is lucky too because the games main battles are damn hard if you haven’t adequately prepared.
As is customary in JRPGs that means copious amounts of grinding, sometimes this is an absolute chore, but luckily due to some incredibly clever systems Devil Survivor avoids this pitfall.
The game’s encounters are best described as a clever mix of turn based strats such as Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics and the mainline SMT games. Each of the games playable human characters are joined in battle by two demons for a total of four teams. These move as a single unit on the levels map which is split into a grid.
Much like Disgaea, players can move a set number of squares each turn, depending on their agility stat, as well as perform skills that boast your abilities in battle or heal others.
Engaging the enemy is as simple as walking up to the square next to them and choosing to attack. Action then shifts to a first person viewpoint against a demon which will be flanked by two minions. The actual fighting works in the same way as most other turn based RPGs, except you only fight for one turn, although extra turns can be earned for successfully scoring critical hits or exploiting your enemies elemental weaknesses. Therefore it is critical to effectively plan every strike and use the right powers on the right enemies or you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
That isn’t to say that success is as easy as striking first, your position on the map and remembering to heal your party is almost as critical as your choice of attack. Go into a conflict with low health and chances are you won’t make it out alive. Get surrounded and you won’t last long at all. The best advice I can give is to make sure that you either, acquire a demon that knows Dio (healing spell) for each of your teams, or get each of your human characters to learn it as soon as possible, as it makes life a hell of a lot easier. Alternatively, you could get a demon to learn Dio from their human masters using Magnecite which is earned during battle.
In a nice cyclical twist, Humans learn new skills from the demons they defeat in battle using Skill Cracking; At the beginning of each battle players can pick a new skill they want each team leader to learn from the demons they are about to encounter. Then it’s a simple case of killing that demon with the aforementioned team and pinching the skill for themselves.
Also after the completion of each round of fighting, you’ll be granted bonuses depending on how well you fought with additional XP and Mecca (cash) rewarded for successfully exploiting you enemy, extra turns gained and killing multiple enemies in a round.
All of the cash you earn from battles can then be used to bid on new and more powerful demons to enter your service at the games Auction House. This works exactly as you would expect, as three other AI bidders attempt to outbid you and wrestle your potential new thrall away from you, over the course of a three minute bidding war. Luckily at the end of each auction you are given the chance to enter one final bid for your prospective new demonic assistant. If you don’t mind paying slightly over the odds you can win pretty much every time. With each successfully completed auction you’ll also increase your Auction rank which enables you to bid on a larger variety of even more powerful demons. If you don’t fancy bidding you can also chose to pay the cash price for a demon, which is occasionally cheaper, but doesn’t elevate your Auction House ranking as quickly.
The other way to gain new demons into your service is by fusing two of your existing stock. This method results in much more powerful and tailored results as you can chose what skills the newly formed demon inherits in order create all manner of new beasties, they also inherit better stats depending on the level of the fused creatures, so it actually pays to level up your demons before you fuse them..
I found the whole process to be incredibly addictive and spent many hours leveling and then fusing creatures in order to make a much more well rounded, and stronger fighting force.
Players of the original will also be happy to hear that the 3DS version now enables you to create copies of your existing demons (for a small fee) using the Demon Compendium, this brilliant new addition not only enables you to use your favourite demons for multiple fusions, significantly cutting down the amount of grinding required to get a decent result, but also removes the awkward guesswork which plagued the fusion process in the original DS version, as it tells you exactly what you need to create different types of demons.
It’s additions such as these, as well as the aforementioned new dub, minor visual improvements and challenging epilogue that clearly make Overclocked the definitive version of the game. But the fact remains that if you have already played Devil Survivor on the DS, there isn’t quite enough new content to draw back all but the most diehard of fans. Put simply if you have already played and completed the game on the DS, there aren’t enough compelling reasons to bring you back, I’d recommend getting the sequel instead.
However if you own a 3DS, have never played the DS version, and chances are if you live in Europe you haven’t, and are in the market for a decent alternative to Fire Emblem: Awakening, I would highly recommend giving SMT: Devil Survivor: Overclocked a whirl.