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Matt Keller
01 Nov, 2007

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Radiou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army Review

PS2 Review | Longest title of the year?
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of Japanese RPGs in recent years is the fact that nobody has really done anything to revitalize the genre since its move to 3D in the middle of the 90s. You’ve got the same stupid spiky haired kids on a dumb quest to save the world from a villain that could have squashed them in the opening scene and spared us from 70 hours of tedious random battles, agonizing crushes between characters, merchants who expect you to pay for merchandise despite the imminent end of the world, and all sorts of other anime-inspired rubbish. The Shin Megami Tensei series tries to separate itself from the pack by offering slightly more satanic themes across its games. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Radiou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army is the latest entry in the Devil Summoner subseries, and while it offers a refreshing break from the typical RPG experience (and an extraneously long title), it still has a number of issues plaguing not only this game, but the genre as a whole.

Devil Summoner takes place in a rather unique time period for an RPG – the early 1920s. The game makes specific reference to the events that happened during that decade, as well as making use of real world fantasy figures to tell its story. Players take control of a character they name in the opening scene; a character that happens to be in the midst of his trial to become a devil summoner (which serves as a handy tutorial). Upon completion of the tasks in the trial, the player is renamed Radio Kuzunoha the XIV, and assigned to the Narumi Detective Agency in order to investigate any paranormal activity in the Capital (assumed to be Tokyo). Players also meet Gouto, a black cat who acts as a sidekick and guide throughout the game.

Radiou's not a fan of the horseless carriage

Radiou's not a fan of the horseless carriage
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Early in their employ at the Narumi Detective Agency, players have a chance encounter with Kaya Daidouji, a 15 year old girl who has begged Narumi to kill her in order to prevent what she believes will be a demon rising from her body on her 16th birthday. She is kidnapped by the Red Guard, who disappear without a trace, leaving Radiou and Narumi as the chief suspects in the investigation. Players have to clear their names, and get to the bottom of Kaya’s story. Despite the rather neat sounding explanation of the story we’ve given, Devil Summoner’s opening scenes move with an extremely sluggish pace – it's not just slow, it's Superman: The Movie slow – and this is accentuated by the sheer volume of combat in the opening scenes. Very little background information on the main characters is provided, giving the feeling that the game just dumped you in the middle of a story.

Random battles are prolific in Devil Summoner – to the point of nausea. Players are made aware of the fact that demons are everywhere in the world, but the sheer number of battles the game throws at you is ridiculous. Fortunately, the game is packing a reasonably good battle system. The action is real time, so players will have to have their wits about them. Radiou is equipped with a sword and a gun for some basic attacks – the sword is capable of a combo, charge attack and a dash attack, while the pistol can use different types on ammunition. The real purpose of the battle is capturing and training your devil companions – find the devil’s weakness, wear it down and capture it with the O button. There are a few factors that determine how difficult it is to capture a devil – the phase of the moon and their level in particular. There are a whole slew of different devils available, and it’s really up to the player which ones they fight with. Devils increase in levels the same way as Radiou (though players get to allocate points to Radiou’s abilities, whereas the devil’s are automatic), but gain extra abilities with more levels. It’s important to have devils fight with Radiou, as it also increases their loyalty to him.

No, we're two lab mice bent on world domination

No, we're two lab mice bent on world domination
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Devils' abilities don’t just come in handy in the battles – many devils have abilities that can be exploited during Radiou’s investigations. Mind reading, detection and stealth all come into play when Radiou needs to investigate places where he is not exactly welcome. The ability a demon has out on the field is based on their order – Pagans have the mind reading powers, while a frost demon can calm a suspect’s mind or freeze a body of water. Much like the HM moves in the Pokémon games, these demon abilities are needed to progress the story, so some backtracking will be necessary if players miss a particular demon the first time around. The fusion lab allows players to fuse demons together to breed new demons with better abilities, or they can choose to forge the demon to Radiou’s sword, enhancing its power.

Devil Summoner’s story is broken into 12 episodes which last about 2 to 2.5 hours a piece, putting the game around the 25-30 hour mark. Now that might seem a little short to RPG fans, but let’s face it – how many RPGs offer enthralling content for their 50 hour + lifespans? Devil Summoner’s slowest parts are at the beginning of the story, and one gets the feeling fairly early on that they won’t need their hand held by a playguide to see the best that the game has to offer, which is a refreshing change from most recent RPGs. The game also offers a New Game + mode after completion the first time – new costumes and abilities are featured, giving the player incentive for another run through the story.

A baby demon may sound like a good idea for a pet, but they grow up

A baby demon may sound like a good idea for a pet, but they grow up
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Character design is a major highlight of Devil Summoner’s visual presentation, with very distinctive appearance and bold use of shapes. However, once these characters make it into the game, they’re rendered with lower than expected polygon counts, resulting in a simpler appearance, but giving a very smooth 60 frames per second play speed. It’s particularly nice to see an RPG set in a somewhat modern era of the 1920s – a good break from the typical medieval or steampunk setting we’ve seen beaten to death over the past decade. Music is a mixed bag, with some really good battle themes offset by some awfully repetitive music during the investigation scenes. Devil Summoner does not feature any voice work, which is an interesting choice in this day and age, but works to the game’s benefit.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Radiou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army’s setting and themes provide a much needed break from the standard RPG fare, but the game relies too much on tried and true RPG mechanics in its gameplay. There are an awful lot of random battles, and the story takes a long time to get off the ground – but if players look past these minor issues, and don’t mind a shorter than average adventure, then Devil Summoner is worth checking out.
The Score
Devil Summoner starts out with a bunch of fresh ideas, but still retains many of the problems that plague modern day RPGs. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 Comments
6 years ago
Any word on a Persona 3 release?
6 years ago
^ I have seen January 28, 2008 thrown around. But who knows.

I have been wanting Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Radiou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army for a while now. And whilst this review actually made me want to play the game (random battles and slow stories bother me not), I'm not sure it is 'Must Have' enough to warrant a purchase. There are too many 'Need to Buy' games out there or coming out very soon. If I see it cheap though...
6 years ago
sorry to bump this thread --- but persona looks great...........
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Koei
Developer:
  Atlus
Players:
  1

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