PS2 review: Devil Summoner 2

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Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon tells the story of Raidou, a devil-summoning detective tasked with peacekeeping in Japan’s capital during the early 1930s. The game begins as a wave of bad luck sweeps the city, and Raidou and his feline mentor Gouto are tasked with helping a girl find her lost brother, Dahn.

It’s a fairly small-scale opening, quite unlike what I’m used to seeing in roleplaying games. But the story setup works great, allowing plenty of opportunities for Raidou to interact with the rest of the Narumi Detective Agency, and letting players work at their own pace as they choose to engage in or ignore the various side-quest case files.

Devil Summoner 2’s humble opening acclimates players to the mechanics without pressuring them to rush ahead. And those mechanics are incredibly enjoyable, with some of the best hack-and-slashing around complementing Shin Megami Tensei’s ever-addictive demon fusion system.

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It’s not that the action is incredibly deep, though it is lent depth by its roleplaying framework of leveling, fusing, and spellcasting. Really, the crux of Devil Summoner 2’s action is that it does everything it needs to, and does it well.

The basic slash feels satisfying. You can block and dodge. Your demons attack on their own, but you can set them to auto-cast spells or simply trigger those spells when you need them. You can call your demons back or hide them so they’re not taking damage, and you can switch them out mid-battle.

These are all incredibly crucial, and Devil Summoner 2 nails the genre’s foundational mechanics. Sure, there aren’t any crazy acrobatic combos, but this is a hack-and-slash at heart, and a great one.

Battles are a real-time version of MegaTen’s tried-and-true press turn system, wherein players exploit enemy weaknesses to stun them and gain extra attacks. But the game’s greatest weakness arises from one of its greatest strengths: In Devil Summoner 2, stunning an enemy with a magic attack allows you to repeatedly score criticals, earning back mana with every hit.

Unfortunately, this is the only way to gain back magical energy, meaning longer boss battles can run you dry if you’re unlucky. It only happened to me a few times, but it can be incredibly frustrating when it does, and it’s a blemish on an otherwise great experience.

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Even so, combat remains the initial hook – but there’s a ton here to keep players coming back. Devil Summoner 2 features great demon designs and powerful combat skills, giving players a lot of control over their team dynamic. Plus, each demon gains loyalty from battles, which earns them a passive skill when maxed out. These passive skills stack upon each other with each fusion, allowing for some truly awesome party members.

There’s also a basic weapon crafting system, a large amount of optional content scattered throughout, and a new game+ mode, with additional difficulty levels to look forward to at the game’s end.

The plot is character-centric throughout, and takes its time to introduce you to key players. But don’t be fooled into thinking it never grows any larger than its characters: There’s some real flair to the storytelling in Devil Summoner 2, not the least of which is its ability to break the fourth wall while maintaining the integrity of its fiction.

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It’s an incredibly cool sleight of hand that stems from the main character not actually being named Raidou Kuzonoha, but having adopted it as his name in a long line of devil summoners. Players enter their own name as Raidou’s “actual” name, and certain plot points call them out to make decisions. It’s a similar tactic to those seen in other roleplaying games, but works itself more strongly into the plot via clever narrative shenanigans.

Devil Summoner 2’s story preys on the player. It asks you questions in order to get to know you, with issues more nuanced than you might expect. And once it’s established where you stand, the game tells you that you might not want to continue. You might not like what you discover.

It’s an incredibly interesting narrative device, one that toys with players in the same way that comic book villains toy with the hero. And it’s especially compelling because roleplaying games are a genre of dropped storylines, as players decide that they really don’t want to know, that there’s little here for them, that they can’t be bothered. Player apathy is turned into a major plot point, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Devil Summoner 2 is damned smart.

In my review of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, I mentioned that a number of small details kept me from really loving the game. Devil Summoner 2, on the other hand, is the real deal. The combat system is satisfying, the demon fusion compelling, the story unforgettable – and that jazzy soundtrack’s none too bad, either.

Missing out on Devil Summoner 2 would be a damned shame.

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2 Responses to “PS2 review: Devil Summoner 2”

  1. Squire Grooktook Says:

    Fuck, I shouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to get this game when I had the chance, since some friends told me they didn’t like it. I’ll have to add it to my list of games to order.

    Sorry I haven’t been reading your blog lately, been pretty preoccupied with stuff lol.

  2. catstronaut Says:

    No better time to get it than now, it’s been cheap ever since the reprint hit Amazon. And no worries, you are under no obligations to constantly follow my blog 😉 I do appreciate it, though!

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