The Devil's in the Details

Devil Summoner 2 does action RPGs and monster collection oh so right.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 28, 2009
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I'm sensing something of a trend here. I keep opening my reviews as of late with harping on the fact that games keep taking the bulk of content from a previous entry and re-packaging it with a new name. Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite did it, Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires did it and, technically Devil Summoner 2: Raido Kuzunoha vs. King Abbadon does it. Many of the locations, characters and monsters found in the sequel are lifted right from Devil Summoner: Raido Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army -- including a big chunk of the lengthy title itself.

Luckily, most of that content was so wonderfully original to begin with that it doesn't seem nearly as offensive as some of those other games listed. Setting everything in 1930s Japan means a rather unique take on the creeping Western colonial aesthetic of the 20s while preserving all the core aspects of traditional Japanese architecture and culture. In short, it's an awesome mash-up, and presents the world in a way that video games -- even Japanese-developed ones -- haven't really ventured into.

There's also one very important distinction between this and the last game: the battle system has been given a massive overhaul. Raido, the detective/demon hunter from the first game, can now carry two demons with him into the full 3D battlefields, using their elemental affinity and slowly upgrading powers to battle enemies while he uses his pistol to stun enemies and sword to slash at 'em melee-style. With a press of a shoulder button, Raido can call the monsters to his side, and if held, they'll be "hidden" from attacks -- useful because the battles have gotten even harder, and without the beneficial aids of some characters, he can be quickly overwhelmed.

Each of the monsters gains experience (loyalty) and levels up with use, gaining new abilities similar to the Personas in those MegaTen games. Monsters can be swapped out fairly easily, dismissed as needed (only a few at a time can be held, though that number increases as Raido himself levels up). These companions provide more than just in-battle support, though, some have the ability to read minds, see hidden objects and so on, so swapping them out becomes a pretty common practice, and thankfully the menus are plenty zippy. Interestingly, gaining their companionship isn't as easy as just capturing them. Now, they need to be bribed and talked to with the right responses to their queries -- which unfortunately means a bit of trial and error, though the game usually drops a save point close to any major monsters' locations.

Battle are something of a balancing act; Raido can attack normally, sure, but his demonic pals draw on his pool of magic. Thanks to some basic rules, the normally autonomous monsters can be issued either simple "don't use magic" instructions or they can be ordered to do something more specific. That's important, as hitting enemies with opposite elemental attacks stuns them, and beating on them then releases more MAG, allowing for more special attacks. It's a simple little system, but hooboy does it get addictive -- especially when you've built up a nice stable of monsters you can call out.
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