You know, it seems like every time someone brings up Atlus on the internet, it’s shortly followed by praise, adoration, or gushing. Or alternatively — or simultaneously — declaring Atlus as the greatest gaming company around…whether that’s in regards to JRPGs, or just games in general. If nothing else — if you learn nothing, or take away nothing else from these posts — then you have to learn that Atlus’ love is unquestionably deserved. What “The House of Jack Frost” lacks in resources or raw graphical power, they make up for with overwhelming style, enthralling stories, and gameplay that’ll make you want to take a sledgehammer to whatever system has the misfortune of loading up one of Atlus’ bosses.
Just think about the amount of playtime you can get out of one of their titles. How is it that a triple-A game might not last you through the weekend, but a game with a fraction of the budget can give you anywhere from fifteen to eighty hours of gameplay? Similarly, how is it that a game designed to be a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish can barely be remembered a month after release, but a game infinitely more sedate has sequences, worlds, and even conversations I’ll remember for years to come? I doubt any Persona 4 fans will forget the King’s Game anytime soon…among other things.
So yes, Atlus is more than deserving of praise. From a technical perspective they’re not the most impressive, but the limits imposed in one area drove the developers to excel in others. There’s a definitive creative vision in virtually every product they put out, one that has been and will continue to be appreciated by fans. My biggest gripe? I need more news on Persona 5…but then again, I’m more than willing to wait.
Now then, let’s get back on topic, yeah?
WARNING: there will be spoilers.
One of the things I couldn’t help but praise last time was DeSu2’s forward-thinking. The underlying question was “how do you rebuild the world?” And it’s a valid question — one that I wish more games would tackle instead of fading to black with little more than flimsy promises of hope and better days once the big baddie’s buried. Mind you, this wasn’t just something tacked on in the last hours of the game; this is an overarching element of Desu2’s story that, while not the key element at the outset, is still one that weaves its way through the entire game.
The choices therein are as much a slew of interesting story routes as they are a judge of character. Given the choice, would you support a world of absolute equality, where everyone supports one another but there’s no drive to excel or improve yourself? Would you support a world based on merit, where the strongest and wisest are given their rightful chance to rule, but at the cost of using a pile of bodies to build your ladder to the top? Would you forgo the chance to remake the world (even for the better) just so you can bring back the status quo? Would you kill a god regardless of the consequences? And even beyond all those options, would you fight — and even kill — a friend just for the chance to realize your vision of a better tomorrow?
There are difficult questions being asked here, without a doubt. Now, admittedly, I think that the issues at hand (meritocracy vs. egalitarianism) are incredibly simplified versions of their usual selves, or at least what Wikipedia might suggest. There are probably a lot more societal and political issues here, and plenty more beyond that. But even so, it’s not a deal-breaker; after all, the new world is going to be created by a supreme administrator that looks like a fusion between a giant ice pick and a dreidel and has no qualms about brainwashing humanity to suit your needs. Likewise, the people proposing these ideas — JPs chief Yamato and riot-starting detective Ronaldo — are repeatedly called out for being too extreme and too stubborn for their own good. It’s only natural that they oversimplify things and assume that their ideals will fix the world’s problems. (It’s worth noting that in Yamato’s route, he willingly admits that it doesn’t matter if he’s the one ruling in his merit-based world; all that matters is that the best man for the job takes the throne.)
As it should be, the deciding factor for whose world ends up being built — note that I didn’t say “who’s right” — is the main character. Or rather, the player; it’s through the efforts of said main character (who for the purposes of this post I’ll start referring to as Hibiki Kuze, in honor of the DeSu 2 anime) that the game not only gets its ending, but a couple of its stongest weapons.
Hibiki’s presence, first and foremost, contributes to the idea of “leadership” that runs throughout the game. Whether you agree with Yamato/Ronaldo or not, there are others in the game that do, and for valid reasons. Maybe they wouldn’t if the status quo wasn’t in place, but the world has been wrecked almost beyond repair, and the implication is that beyond Japan’s borders, there isn’t even a world anymore. In times of crisis, the people need strong leaders — and there’s no one better for the job in this case than the man spearheading an organization designed specifically to counter the threat of demons and alien invaders. Well, except for the guy who’s doing his damnedest to gather food and medical supplies and offer his own counter-offense against demons and the organization that’s trying to hoard supplies. In any case, they’re men with vision, passion, intelligence, charisma, and most of all power.
And that’s where Hibiki comes in. See, in the DeSu games the stats of the main character are decided solely by you. Every level-up gives you one point to put into your strength, magic, vitality, or agility. In theory, this means that with enough patience (i.e. grinding), you can build a character that’s well-rounded, or even one without any weaknesses. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I’m convinced that the best build for these games is one that maximizes two stats: magic and vitality. I find magic to be more useful in these games than physical attacks, because you gain easy access to elemental spells that’ll let you hit enemy weaknesses/earn extra turns, AND boosting your magic stat boosts your highly-critical MP. Meanwhile, boosting your vitality stat boosts your HP and defense, and — much like boosting the magic stat — gives you access to some of the best offensive and defensive skills in the game. Think about it: one of the biggest dangers of using a mage in most RPGs is the fact that they can’t take a hit. If you remove that weakness, then you’re left with a character that can dish out huge damage, hit enemy weaknesses, and not only have the defense to shrug off most blows but also equip skills that further reduce damage from all but one or two attack types. Simply put, my Hibiki was nigh-unkillable. Except if he got turned to stone and then got attacked. Then he shattered like an egg.
The takeaway from all this is that, if you build a proper character and make use of the possibilities available, you’ll be able to make Hibiki into the most powerful member of the entire cast. You’re ensuring that the potential he has is fulfilled, and justifying his ability as a frontline fighter. But it’s not just strength that makes him the main character; thanks to the player’s guiding hand (assuming that you can pull off a win), Hibiki is a tactical genius that ensures victory after victory. Even if Yamato and Ronaldo are the visionaries, and even if they have talent in their own right, it’s Hibiki who’s got the leadership qualities needed to save the world.
And I mean that quite literally. See, there’s a catch to rebuilding the world via Polaris: the administrator will only do it if humanity’s will is unified. That is, those with the ability to even make it to his throne have to have a singular belief. If Yamato goes to the throne with aims of creating a meritocracy, but Joe comes along and he wants equality, then it doesn’t work. Everyone present has to believe in a singular vision (the lack of which may what caused Polaris to start erasing the world in the first place). So, how do you get the best of the best to reconcile? How do you get them to forgo their own beliefs without slaughtering them outright?
Easy. You use Hibiki’s second great weapon: kindness.
One of the major additions to DeSu2 (though admittedly one ripped right out of Persona 3 and 4) is the
social link Fate system. Basically, the more you talk to the cast outside of battles, the more bonuses you all receive. They’ll get elemental resistances, the ability to trade demons on the fly with Hibiki, and unlock more powerful demons for you to use, assuming you get strong enough demons to fuse into them. Really though, it’s the player to actively seek out character development moments — a dirty trick on Atlus’ part, but a smart move all the same. The option to get closer to your party members was there in DeSu1, but the sequel takes it up a notch. Each character gets a mini-episode to get fleshed out and face a development-inducing dilemma. Joe has to deal with the pressure of facing his sick girlfriend in the wake of a collapsing world. Daichi learns to be a man, and learns that his inaction could easily lead to the death of the weak and helpless.
But special mention has to go to Io, who not only learns to become more confident, but (if you’re with her at the right time) gets to find the corpses of her dead parents. And she’s just in time to see one of them die before her eyes, all while surrounded by rows of body bags. Consider that just one of several kicks to the balls delivered by DeSu’s narrative.
But the key to advancing each character’s fate (from rank zero to rank five) is going out of your way to heal the wounds in their hearts and minds. The more kindness you show to your comrades, the stronger they — and you, by extension — become. If you get them to rank four, you’ve got comrades that’ll follow you even if you don’t align with their ideal of choice. Anything less and they become impossible to recruit. I’m pretty much convinced that if you don’t rank up at all, some of them will outright DIE. And while you’ll have a few strong party members to pick from no matter which path you take, by the time you’ve reached that point you’re probably got a go-to party you want re-assembled ASAP.
In any case, it’s Hibiki’s kindness as much as — and likely more than — his strength and intelligence that wins people to his cause. Remember, Yamato and Ronaldo are extremists; the former is damn near villainous in his pursuits, the latter is a verifiable terrorist, and both of them are destructively determined. It’s also worth noting that there’s an unmistakable hollowness to both their creeds; Yamato is in control of JPs precisely because his family and lineage put him there, i.e. the exact thing his meritocracy is partly trying to remove. Meanwhile, Ronaldo is trying to create a world of equality, but incidentally he’s the leader because he’s the strongest and most capable of the bunch. Neither leader comes even close to being relatable…at least, compared to the kind, considerate, trustworthy kid roped into this mess like everyone else. You know, the same kid who’s been roped into the situation as everyone else, and has a first-hand account of what’s going on without any dilution via the lens of power, and goes well out of his way to form precious bonds with everyone. We should be thankful Hibiki didn’t try to install his own new world order.
In any case, the overarching message here is that even beyond societal ideologies, the key to making a better world (or just plain restoring it) is kindness. Being able to trust in one another and cooperate is a key element, regardless of what you believe in. Say what you will about society at large, but I think there’s merit to my words considering the amount of effort and manpower it takes just to build a house. Hibiki’s presence lends an element of humanity to whatever side he chooses; hell, just being around Yamato probably works wonders for mellowing out the chief’s self-confessed coldness. Ultimately, that’s the developers’ end goal for showing how to rebuild the world — an idealized and optimistic version, sure, but if nothing else it makes you want to believe and play along. It’s thanks to Hibiki’s efforts — YOUR efforts — that, no matter which ending you get, you’re bound to have a glimmer of hope sparkling before your eyes.
But for all my praise up to this point, there’s still a major issue I have with the presence of Hibiki — and you can consider this a problem that extends to the Persona games and the original Devil Survivor. The thing is…well, Hibiki is pretty much a messiah.
I mean, really. That’s what he is. He’s almost immediately established to be one of the strongest demon tamers. He immediately earns the respect and trust of every character — even Ronaldo, who at the outset is irrevocably an enemy. Damn near every girl shows some level of attraction towards him, whether you max out their Fate rank or not. Even beyond that, the fact that only Hibiki can sort out their emotional baggage (male or female) is kind of distressing. You can shift his characterization to be a straight-laced and intelligent leader, a hot-blooded fighter, or a moron, which I approve of…but if you try and act intelligent, too often the game will give you answers to questions that, occasionally, you have no way of knowing the answer to…and yet the others will applaud you just as quickly. Actually, they’re quick to applaud you for pretty much waking up in the morning. There’s being kind and trustworthy, and then there’s being worshipped like a deity.
Now, I know that this isn’t exactly a universal problem; it’s more of a matter of preference. And indeed, there are theme-related reasons for making Hibiki out like this. And on top of that, the whole universe doesn’t revolve around him; he’s a silent observer most of the time, and the other characters are more eager to interact with each other instead of just you. But I can’t shake this feeling that the game’s narrative is warping around to accommodate you and Hibiki, making it so that it’s incredibly difficult to do something wrong. It doesn’t matter what the other characters want; it’s all about what you want. And this feeds into making the Fate system a little insincere (again, a complaint that I could make against the Persona games). Are you helping Hinako rediscover her passion for dance because you genuinely care about her, and want to hear her story? Or are you just doing it so you can tick off numbers on a list, or get bonuses in battle? Do you even care about Jungo’s cat, or Fumi’s research, or Otome’s daughter? Or do you just want to build their trust so they’ll follow you down your path?
I’m willing to let it slide because these points aren’t game-breaking. Nor are they things that detract severely from the quality of the game. But they’re still things that should be considered, especially when the point of the game is to rely on and establish strong leaders. How are we supposed to fully understand and accept the elements here if there’s an inherent selfishness to the proceedings? How are we supposed to believe that we’re pulling together as a team when your actions are borderline saintly? Taken on a deeper level, DeSu2 runs the risk of undermining itself by way of its game-based, player-aggrandizing elements. What if I want to work a little bit harder to build bonds with comrades besides just being a yes man? What if I want my comrades to disagree with me? What if I want to struggle to find an answer to the problem, and not just have the best result handed to me? What I’m getting at here is that (outside of the punishing gameplay, because Atlus secretly gets thrill out of the pain it brings its players), you don’t really have to work for your happy ending. It’s just a matter of choosing the right option, or the option you want, from a handful of items. And in a game where there IS no right answer that’ll save the world absolutely, that’s a bit of a shame.
That’s not to say that DeSu2 is completely worse off for it. It isn’t. But know this: in spite of all the praise I heap on the game, it’s not perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect game. Nor is there a perfect movie, or a perfect book, or a perfect story, or a perfect anything. And to that end, I present to you, in an unsorted list that’s by no means indicative of severity or quality…
WHY DEVIL SURVIVOR 2 IS SIMULTANEOUSLY
THE MOST AWESOME AND MOST INFURIATING GAME
CREATED IN THE PAST EIGHT-ISH YEARS OR SO
1) Yamato Hotsuin, and why I like him. (This is going to be long…)
Easily my favorite character by a long shot. (
And is not beacuse of my hot guys with white hair fetish *cough*)
Let’s get Yamato’s personality problems out of the way first, since he does have them. I think Yamato turns a lot of people off largely because of his personality and the way he initially interacts with others; he comes across as arrogant, dismissive, and condescending. As the leader of JP’s, he expects to be obeyed immediately and without question, and tends to dismiss those who differ from his own opinions, ideals, principles, and goals. He doesn’t flinch at the thought of sacrificing lives for a greater good, has an unfortunate habit of referring to his subordinates and allies as “pawns” and “trash,” and seems utterly incapable of handling anyone with kid gloves. Additionally, his goal in both the game and the anime is to lead a society fundamentally based on merit, a system in which the strong thrive and the weak struggle to survive. In comparison to likeable, affable Diachi, buoyant Hinako, selfless Io and good old egalitarian Ronaldo, Yamato’s a ready-made antagonist, the sort of guy a lot of people love to hate…
…unless you’re able to place his actions and his identity in context. If you do, what you’ll find is a deeply flawed character whose ideals have risen from his own struggles and his own observations of power and weakness, who does desire friendship and express affection, and whose upbringing and bloodline has irrevocably altered his understanding of the world and the way he relates to others. Let’s take a look at this, shall we?
To understand Yamato, it’s important to take a look at his upbringing. First, let’s just remember – he’s seventeen. Seventeen. Yes, in the anime he’s voiced by Suwabe Junichi and he sounds and behaves as though he’s thirty, but he’s seventeen. So from the very beginning it’s apparent that he’s young, he’s highly unusual, and he’s carrying a big burden for someone his age. Unfortunately, the life he’s lived up to the present moment in the game/anime reflects that burden. In the anime we’ve received glimpses of his earlier life via flashback: a tiny (and cute!) Yamato reads giant books, summons Cerberus, and gazes at the rest of the world from his vantage point in an expensive car. During that scene in the car when young Yamato peers outside and wants to know what’s happening in the “normal” world, he’s essentially told that having fun isn’t his concern. In another flashback as he summons Cerberus, the viewer sees him surrounded by power-hungry – but profoundly incompetent – adults.
Yamato’s childhood and upbringing was a strange and lonely one. In a conversation with Diachi that takes place in the game, Yamato mentions he never went to school with other children. He admits that instead he was taught by a large and knowledgeable staff of personal tutors who schooled him in whatever he needed to know. Daichi expresses disbelief at this, at the fact that Yamato’s never had normal friends or done something as simple as play kickball. Later, Yamato’s isolation from normal life is highlighted again in an amusing conversation with Hibiki; he confesses he’s never tried takoyaki and refers to it disdainfully as a “civilian foodstuff.” When he finally tries it at Hibiki’s request, he’s shocked by how good it is and ends up stuffing his face. The memory for him is evidently a special one, as he eventually supplies his group with a takoyaki feast before they begin to take out the other factions and later attaches a picture of takoyaki to a friendly email he sends to Hibiki. (Aww.)
He never had a proper childhood, nor a particularly normal life in any sense of the term. Ergo, he’s never had normal relationships with people. Ever. Certainly this doesn’t always excuse Yamato’s behavior, but I think it places that behavior in a context where it’s a lot more understandable. It’s not necessarily that Yamato’s incapable of affection, care, or interaction with others; he’s never experienced those things and he doesn’t know how to show them. He’s only ever had subordinates, not friends – and so that’s how he relates to people.
Additionally, Yamato isn’t quite the dismissive jerk he seems on first glance, though this isn’t emphasized in the anime nearly as much as it is in the game. In the game, when his subordinates screw up he tends to forgive them or brush aside their failures unpunished – to his mind, failure is punishment enough on its own (and usually results in death anyway). He shrugs off Makoto’s confession that she took Hibiki and his friends to Fukuouka without his permission and dismisses her without censure; he doesn’t fire JP’s members when they make mistakes. During his investigation of the neurotoxin spreading throughout Japan, he even warns one of his subordinates away from one of Alioth’s poisonous eggs (though the subordinate does not listen and dies, earning a rebuke from Yamato for his sacrifice). And if you choose Yamato’s route in the game, he’s willing to let Hibiki persuade the others to his side rather than to kill them outright, and indeed allows the others to fight him to prove the strength of their ideals. Intriguingly, he makes no real move in his route to kill Ronaldo and only does so in retaliation when Ronaldo charges him in one last, desperate attack. Yamato certainly can be violent and uncaring – and he’ll annihilate true threats when pressed – but he takes a surprisingly light hand to the organization he runs and seems willing enough (as per his philosophy) to let the world sort itself out among the weak and the strong.
In Yamato’s route, even if you don’t look at matters through shipping goggles it’s fairly evident that Yamato has an immense fondness for Hibiki. He moves, throughout the game, from calling Hibiki a “pawn” to “his greatest pawn” and then, finally, to a “sworn friend” and an equal. He promises to reward Hibiki with a seat at his side. He praises Hibiki constantly. And inside the praise, he also makes telling comments about how Hibiki understands, how Hibiki is one of the few who can grasp what he’s trying to do. By the end of the game, Yamato practically refers to Hibiki and himself as one unit; it’s always “Hibiki and I will…” or “Hibiki and I want…” The sense you receive from Yamato in his route is that he’s relieved and delighted to have a companion who tries to see his point of view, someone strong enough to walk beside him. As a result, he comes to view civilians differently as well. Because of Hibiki’s existence and strength, Yamato understands that there’s a lot of potential and strength that exists in the world beyond his purview and seems open to discovering it. Makoto acknowledges this during Yamato’s route when she admits that Yamato seems to have changed for the better.
One more aspect of Yamato’s personality to touch on, now – and this pertains directly to his goals and his ideologies. Let’s forge forward into why the heck he wants a merit-driven world so much.
In DeSu2 – at least in the game, though the anime seems to be setting things up differently – the central choice for the protagonist revolves around what sort of world he wants to see in the future: a meritocracy (championed by Yamato), an egalitarian society (championed by Ronaldo), or a sort of normal, middle-ground society (as it exists in Daichi’s route). Ronaldo’s way at times seems fairer and fluffier (though Ronaldo is as pigheadedly stubborn a character as you will ever come across) and Daichi’s friendlier and more balanced. Certainly Yamato’s desires seem harsh and potentially devastating, especially since he tends to couch his goals in terms of “power,” “trash,” and “pawns.” I’m not interested here in discussing which outcome is best – I think that’s subjective and will differ from player to player – but rather in giving some context to Yamato’s desire for a meritocracy and what it really means.
What Yamato desires isn’t a naked power grab. In the game, the other characters seem to think this; they view Yamato as bossy and demanding anyway, and his desire to lead a society where the strong thrive certainly seems to play to his strengths. Many of the characters assume he’s setting himself up to be the de facto leader of a new, dog-eat-dog world. But Yamato himself doesn’t see it that way. As he tells Hibiki, he simply wants the strongest and most capable to lead, and he doesn’t particularly care whether he’s that person or not. In fact, as his route progresses, he defers to Hibiki more and more. So it isn’t that Yamato wants, for his own fulfillment, to become leader of the free world. Rather, Yamato insists on a world in which the strongest and most capable person – whoever that might be – leads society. Why?
The answer, I think, lies in Yamato’s experiences. In the anime, there’s a brief glimpse of him sitting at a dinner table with a group of people who seem to be politicians or authority figures. They’re chewing with their mouths open, concerned only with saving their own skin and their own positions, and they possess no ability to fight on their own. These are the people Yamato must deal with; these are the people who run Japan.
He’s obviously disgusted by it, in the anime, and even by the people in his own family who, despite the Hotsuin bloodline, seem terrified by his capabilities. He refers frequently in the game to the “corruption” of the world, and expresses his desire for a society where power is not determined by bloodline or heritage, but by strength. In that view, Yamato advocates for the destruction of the very system that supported his own rise to power. Rather than depend on the Hotsuin blood or the Hotsuin name, he desires a society where his own abilities and his own will determine who he will become and what he will do. His desire for a meritocracy is a rejection of the current system he despises.
This also makes clear why Yamato has such an interest in Hibiki. In a way, Hibiki himself is the emblem of Yamato’s perfect system, and this might be why Yamato fixates on him so much if you choose his route. Hibiki has no particular bloodline or birthright (and no special demons, though the anime wants you to think so); he’s simply capable of getting the job done when the situation calls for it. Yamato’s meritocracy allows for this potentiality. In Yamato’s eyes, a system where power is based on merit and strength would essentially invert the social order by taking power away from those who expect it and giving it to those who earn it outright – people like Hibiki, whose abilities far surpass their circumstances and might have gone forever undiscovered.
The argument against this, of course – and the argument Ronaldo and some of the others make – is that Yamato’s system will effectively kill off the weak and the incapable, that it isn’t fundamentally “fair.” The former detective would rather create a system wherein everything is distributed equally to everyone and no one is treated as more or less powerful due to their abilities. The problem with this system, as Yamato points out, is that people are inherently corrupt: throughout the game, they riot and steal and destroy – even when Io and Daichi attempt to pass out food to them (though this is de-emphasized in the anime). In Yamato’s view, giving resources to those who will waste it is foolishness and will deprive others who can lead of the vital things that they need. Whether his assessment is correct is up for debate, but it’s fairly plain to see that Yamato’s view of the world – and his dream for what the world should be – hinges on his own experiences with the corrupt, the power-hungry, and the privileged.
I also think it’s worth noting here that Yamato can be persuaded to amend his ideals, even though they mean so much to him that he would die for them. In the Anguished One’s route, Yamato commits suicide rather than sacrifice his desire and his vision for the future of society. In Ronaldo’s route, he also opposes the protagonist – though, as he dies during the collapse of the tower, he tellingly manages to save the lives of Hibiki’s team. But in Daichi’s route, Yamato can be persuaded to join the group. He’s not completely inflexible, and he’s open to compromise to a degree. Additionally, those compromises change him as a person, and in that route he starts to wonder if he might be able to understand the way civilians think – along with a society he’s never really been a part of.
2) Jungo is pretty cool, too
And then there’s this guy. Man, I love this guy.
This man is the definition of friendship. Even if he was alone just like Keita, he never felt alone. He grew really strong believing in friendship and always try to bring everyone together whenever it seems like the bonds between them are breaking. Usually quiet and gentle, Jungo enters a trance-like rage when he sees that his friends are being threatened.
He’s just this simple-minded chef who wants to be friends with everybody and loves the cat he finds…but he will absolutely wreck anything that crosses him. Make him one of your main combat units, and you’ve got a guy who can smash damn near everything in the entire game. Make him an enemy, and he WILL one-shot you for a critical hit that does nearly two thousand damage…and by that point you’re lucky to have four hundred HP. Long story short, if you need something smashed, JUNGO SMASH.
3) Keita and Airi are kind of…bleh
To be fair, not everyone in the cast is a winner. Opinions may vary on who’s cool and who isn’t, but I personally don’t have much praise to give Keita and Airi. They’re not terrible, mind you, and they do get their moments, but they’re probably the weakest of the bunch. Keita is pretty damn surly from start to finish, and while he does soften up a bit if you boost your Fate rank with him, getting the most out of his character requires you to kill off Jungo. And I ain’t havin’ that.
Airi, meanwhile…well, if you know what a tsundere is, you’ve pretty much got a good 80 percent of her character pegged. She’s very emotional at times, and usually the first to fly off the handle. Luckily, I think that the developers saw the accusations that would arise, and stemmed the tide beforehand — that is, Airi is pretty much everyone’s whipping girl. She gets very little respect, is often the butt of jokes, and even bursts into tears if people poke fun of her. It also helps that there’s no dedicated romancing option in the game, so (as it should be) the focus is on fighting off demons and saving the world, not trying to win the affections of a violence-prone fifteen-year-old.
4) Physical attack-based characters have been supremely buffed
In DeSu1, the viability of physical fighters was dubious at best. Unless you had a very specific setup, they were more likely to do damage to themselves than to opponents; it didn’t help that there were fewer physical attack skills, half of which were nigh-useless by endgame. I’d argue that it’s outright better to have a team of mages instead of a more balanced team.
Not so in DeSu2. In fact, the proper skills on the proper characters can let you instantly win a number of skirmishes. The redheaded dancer Hinako has a stat build that prioritizes strength and agility; if you give her the skill Multi-Strike, you can not only have her attack first, but have her attack every enemy with a good five to seven hard-hitting attacks at once. Or if you give Keita the Assassinate skill, he’ll be able to bypass enemy defenses, instantly kill an enemy leader, and as a result immediately win a battle. So yes, having some fighters on hand isn’t as bad an idea as the first game.
I still think a magic/vitality-based character is the build of choice, though. The reason for that is…
5) It’s VERY easy to create broken characters with the right skill setup
Fumi HAS to be the best character in the game. Sure, she can’t take a hit, and her physical attack power is pitiful, but she maxes out her magic stat way before anyone else — which is to say she maxes out her magic stat, and no one else ever does.
Here’s my layout in my most recent playthrough. Command-wise, give her Holy Dance, Shield All, and Samarecarm. The last one will instantly revive fallen demons/party members with full HP, which is both something you’ll need and something Fumi can handle with her huge MP count. Shield All works exactly how it sounds, blocking one hit for each member of the party. Holy Dance is the only attack spell she needs, which can randomly hit an entire party two to five times — or just do massive damage to a single target, using an element that can’t be resisted or defended against (outside of hidden stat bonuses). For her passive skills, give her Mana Surge to give her an MP boost, Victory Cry to let her regain HP/MP after a fight, and Swift Step to give her the first turn in a fight. And as an added bonus, set her leader skill to Magic Yang to cut the MP cost of skills in half. What this means is that you not only have a unit that can do massive amounts of damage and almost always gets the first turn to either wreck an enemy team or completely nullify attacks (which can and often will result in Extra Turns that then allow you to use Holy Dance), but you can do all that with a dramatically reduced MP cost, to the point that you’re actually gaining more MP than you lost from one fight to the next. Simply put, you can make Fumi a high-damage, nigh-invincible, infinite-MP healer who turns your party’s deaths into an inconvenience.
In spite of all that, it’s STILL not enough to make the game any easier.
6) Unfortunately, you pretty much HAVE to be broken to survive
I’m not kidding. If you aren’t exploiting the system for all it’s worth, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Never mind that this is a game content with throwing infinitely-spawning enemies at you when the most you can have out at a time is a party of four. There are enemies that can prevent you from healing, snipe you from long range, one-shot you, cut your accuracy in half, turn you to stone, halve your HP, ignore your defenses, heal themselves to full power even after you’ve left them with a modicum of HP, clear massive distances, reduce your movement range to one square, put on shields that will immediately reflect your physical or magical attacks (and come in teams that have both those skills equipped), and escape from battles and end a skirmish whenever they want…even if it’s your turn. I hope there’s a special section of hell reserved for the developer who thought it was a good idea to let some enemies get two, three, or four turns in a row before any given party member even gets one.
7) Get ready to scream “WTF!” at the top of your lungs at any given moment
And likewise, get ready for some genuinely-infuriating moments throughout this game. If you let bosses go unchecked, then they’ll be free to pick you apart from six spaces away, making full use of their ability to attack as many as three times in one turn. And since they have the initiative, they’ll get an Extra Turn, and thus six damn attacks in one skirmish. That’s not exactly a pleasant experience.
But where I had to cry foul was when I first tried to clear the game. The big whompin’ final boss entered its ultimate form, with a certain mission stipulation at hand: if Hibiki died, it was an instant game over. “Okay, that’s manageable,” I told myself. “I just have to keep him healed up and out of danger.” Except as soon as the final phase of the fight started, one section of the boss (with infinite attack range, natch) targeted Hibiki and killed him instantly. And bear in mind that I didn’t even get a turn to prepare myself; no, as soon as the fight started, Hibiki got smacked, immediately resulting in a game over and forcing me to start the entire mission over again. And it’s a long-ass mission, one that you can play for an hour or more and still lose.
Shortly thereafter I turned off my DS, slammed it shut, and went to bed.
8) Escort missions are pretty much gone
Thank Odin for that. The escort/protection missions of DeSu1 were an absolute drag to play. Considering how broken enemies can be in this game, you wouldn’t want to be a non-empowered survivor in the midst of all this…and yet, time and time again the original game tasked you with protecting an initially-suicidal rock singer. I don’t think you know how many times I had to do those over, and I’d rather not try and count.
9) Unfortunately, there are still a few “stop that guy from escaping!” missions
In their place, however, we have missions that pit your team against rioters and such who’ll try to escape with stolen food, or alternatively the dragon-slaying fists of Makoto. They’re more than doable, and not nearly as frustrating as the other game’s missions, but it seems like they add more tension than there needs to be. Like while one of the rioters tries to make a getaway, there are punks that use Evil Bind to drop your movement range down to one. And in some cases you start out pretty far behind the escapee, so unless you have Devil Speed to catch up quickly you’re likely out of luck. Hell, I think in one mission the rioters get to move before you do. How is that even remotely fair?
10) The Septentriones are a good-ass idea
I didn’t know what to make of the Septentriones when I first heard about them (and I still don’t; calling them alien invaders almost feel kinda weird). But you know what? Strange as they may be, I get them. I get what the developers were going for.
There’s an element of “facing the unknown” that’s woven through the narrative thanks to the Septentriones. These are incomprehensible, irreconcilable creatures that have neither the desire nor the capacity to compromise. They’re beings created solely to destroy the planet, or at least have it sink into the void as part of Polaris’ task force. Their power and their very presence are to be feared (and indeed, whenever they show up several characters have the “Oh SHIT!” reaction). A huge part of the game — pretty much every day of the story — is dedicated to finding countermeasures against them…and said countermeasures get bigger and more destructive as time passes, to the point where the main cast is semi-responsible for the end of the world. They’re more than just bosses to be conquered; they’re a vital element to the game.
11) Fighting them, however, is a pain in the ass
It’s possible to create your own broken teams, as I said. However, you can only become broken in the context of player limitations. That is, there are skills that enemies have (and the combinations of such) that are not only 100% inaccessible to the player, but turn plenty of skirmishes into downright slobberknockers. And guess who’s usually on the receiving end?
Pretty much all the Septentriones share the ability to attack from several spaces away — something you can do with certain demons on your side, but with significantly-high restrictions…restrictions that these bosses outright ignore. So unless you have Devil Speed on hand (and you won’t), it’ll take one turn to get close to a Septentrion, and then another to actually get in attack range. And by that time, you may end up so battered that challenging them with a half-dead Daichi and two dead demons is a pretty sappy idea. Not that they care; they’ll just pick you apart before you can even land a hit. This guy here will vaporize you with a huge-ass laser if you so much as stand in front of it.
12) Even with skill and strategy, there’s always going to be an element of luck
Look. I know that I just said that the Septentrion battles are all about “facing the unknown.” And I stand by that. I support it. But in a strategy game, where “losing at the select screen” is a real possibility, there is absolutely no way to prepare for some of these fights on your first playthrough. And even beyond that, there’s no way to remember what enemies will do, or are weak against when you encounter them again.
I guess the idea here is that you have to adapt to the situation as it changes, or that you should have your characters optimized for any situation, not just to exploit enemy weaknesses. But how do you adapt to situations where enemies roll around and force you to chase after them while you’re getting sniped? Or when enemies have two distinct and absurdly-powerful forms? Or a boss where only demons can attack and do damage, and if your demons aren’t strong enough (or die) you’re ruined? DeSu2 doesn’t just skirt the line between being challenging and cheap; it gleefully backflips back and forth across it.
13) At least the music is cool
Nothing more needs to be said.
14) The interface is neat, too
There’s an argument to be made that Persona 4, a game released well into the PS2’s twilight years, doesn’t even come close to tapping the system’s power — and as such, the graphics are nothing to be proud of. And while it’s true that plenty of Atlus games may not have the fanciest graphics, they tend to compensate with some striking visual design, whether it’s in game or just in the menus/interface. In this game’s case, it’s a stylish fusion of technology and mysticism, befitting what’s on display in the game. Fans of the color blue will be quite pleased; there’s a lot of information you’ll have to keep track of, but accessing each bit of data is an easy and clean matter.
But special mention has to go to the map screen, which manages to foreshadow the encroaching Void. If you look up at the top screen from time to time, you may notice that the outline of Japan might shift from the last time you glanced up. It’s subtle enough for you to ignore at first, but once the plot starts coming together it’s a nice little touch.
15) The actual graphics are…serviceable
To be honest, I really like the maps — they’re pretty detailed, and certainly manage to capture the spirit of a land in ruin…well, not on every map, but enough times to capture that essence. And while there are some reused assets from DeSu1, the new stuff really shines in its own right. That said…
The same can’t be said for the character sprites. They’re not bad or anything, and in terms of the number of animations, they’re expanded from DeSu1. But still, I feel that they’re not as good as they could be, especially since the DS is GREAT at handling sprites. I’ve seen sprites across the internet that looked both manageable and masterful; is there really no way for this game to have stepped it up a bit?
16) This game is more lighthearted than DeSu1
This is something that’s to be expected. Part of the pressure and stress on the cast of DeSu1 came from them being completely without creature comforts — food, shelter, electricity and of course a safe place to sleep at night were all in short supply. In DeSu2, however, Yamato has accommodations prepared for the cast from the night of Day 1 onward. It contributes to the disparity between the demon tamers — Japan’s newfound cream of the crop — and the unlucky civilians/rioters fighting to survive.
So yes, you get a bit more downtime and ability to relax than the original game. And because everyone’s not stressed all the time, it creates more opportunities for events that wouldn’t be tonally consistent in a more serious game. So if you ever wanted to see, say, one whiny Hindu deity get flung into the sky to be shot by another Hindu deity, then you’re in luck. Or maybe an event where an Osaka mascot murders demons to take their money? Or a sequence where Hibiki, Daichi, and Joe get the chance to peep on the girls during their physical exams (in an event called “Secret Garden”)? And that’s ignoring all the moment-to-moment jokes and conversations that’ll put a smile on your face. Or just freak you out.
17) This game is also notably Japanese
Okay, this isn’t exactly what I’d call a fault, but it’s something worth noting. As you’ve probably guessed, ALL the action in this game takes place in Japan. And while you won’t need a travel guide to know who’s who and what’s what, the more important issue is that, yes, DeSu2 can feel like something you’d expect from Japanese creators. I guess if I had to pare it down, what makes this game so Japanese is that it has some notable and familiar styling. Part of the humor comes from some characters being offbeat, and other characters reacting (or over-reacting) to it. Some people might find the interactions a little unrealistic, or the archetypes therein to be too out there — like Airi’s, for example — but unlike other, significantly-worse JRPGs I could name, these characters are more than just archetypes. If you’re willing to treat them as more than just digitized doodles, you’ll be well-rewarded. That I promise you.
18) The phrase “improbably buxom” is one well-worn in the DeSuVerse
Nobody can ever mention this game without talking about the ladies’ chests, so I guess I have to as well. I should start by saying…really guys? This is what you zero in on? This is how you try to devalue the game? Okay, so the girls are packing some above-average adipose in their shirts. And they’re not exactly the most realistic. So what? Does it make the game any worse? It’s just a stylistic choice by the artist. This is not a fault in its own right.
Nope. Nothing faulty here. Uh…probably.
That’s not to say that it’s a benefit, of course. In the same sense that Squeenix’s deluge of pretty boys is harmful to the brand, (but not for me!) so too is it the case for the art of character designer Suzuhito Yasuda. When you make every character improbably buxom, no one is improbably buxom. Hinako is the only one who should have been sporting generous goods by virtue of her personality, and even then that’s a stretch (as a dancer, you’d expect for her to be a lot more…er, lean). Though it does raise an interesting line of thought: in a world where everyone is improbably buxom, what does that mean for those that are different?
Eh, no sense in worrying about it now. I guess we’ll find out the developers’ intent in DeSu3 if they add a hot springs scene. (Which I hope in that sense have both man and woman service!)
19) It’s edutainment!
I actually didn’t know about this until I started fiddling with the menus, but apparently you can find out more about the demons you summon/buy through an option in the compendium. That’s actually pretty interesting, because a lot of names might be familiar to you. Thor, Odin, Heimdall, and Fenrir all get expanded details (though it seems like the definition of “demon” has been broadened here), so Norse mythology lovers might get a kick out of that. I haven’t exactly gone through every description — and can’t until I start a new file — but from what I gather, pretty much every demon in the game is based on a supernatural creature/deity that exists in a real-world culture.
Take Hamsa, for example (otherwise known as MY SWORN MORTAL ENEMY).
Just a pain-in-the-ass duck soldier, right?
Nope. Have a gander at this:
“A holy white goose which serves as the steed of the Hindu god Brahma. During winter, geese migrate over India. These majestic white figures flying through the sky became symbolic of Brahmin dignity as they tried to reach Brahma, the god of knowledge. This may be how Hamsa came to be seen as Brahma`s steed.”
See? It’s actually a goose. The more you know…
20) Go buy this. Just go buy this.
Really. What the hell else can I say?
I will gladly admit that this game isn’t perfect. I know that it’s got some flaws. I know that it’s hard. I know that it’s not the most visually impressive. I know it has a distinct Japanese flair (which I still can’t believe is a problem for some people, but whatever). But a good product has the right elements to overcome its flaws, or at the very least make you ignore them. And to that end, Devil Survivor 2 succeeds. IN SPADES.
This is a game that’ll make you think long after you’ve put it down. Even if you clear the game, there’s still plenty of content you’ve likely missed out on. The sheer number of combinations available encourages freedom and experimentation. The challenges on parade here will put you to the test, and push you well beyond your limits. The characters who you’ll meet will stick with you, and drive you to do everything to help and protect them…because rest assured, if you drag your feet in certain sequences, they WILL die.
A lot of people will tell you that the JRPG is dead, or that they’re all too clichéd and obsolete to be worth anything, or that they’re all incredibly infantile when you get down to it. That, or just an offhand remark about schoolgirls. But don’t you even THINK about making a mistake on this one: Devil Survivor 2 is a fantastic game, regardless of its style, genre, difficulty, flaws, or whatever reason you might have to avoid adding this to your library. Seek it out and get your hands on it, no matter who or what stands in your way.
See if you have what it takes to survive.
Or check out the manga and the anime if you have the time, you might find them enjoyable~
(I realize now that should have told you about it in part 1, but whatever…)
Speaking of which, I applaud you for “surviving” this ass-long text and until next time! He-Ho!