Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker Review and Analysis
When I first heard that Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker would be released in North America, I was equal parts giddy and concerned. DeSu2 has long been my favorite game of all time, and I fretted that the new amped-up version, complete with a new arc, somehow wouldn't meet my expectations.
I needn't have worried. Not only is DeSu2:RB everything I hoped for and more, the game gave me things I didn't dare hope for or even think to dream about. In short, this game is a joyful little gift to fandom, and I loved it so much that I figured I'd break down what I loved about it in an in-depth analysis/review.
The first portion of the review will focus on gameplay; unless you're new to the DeSu2 game generally, there will be no spoilers here. The second portion of the review will focus on content, and spoilers will abound because there's so much to discuss and I want to get down to specifics. Avoid the second half of the review if you don't want to know anything about the Triangulum arc of the game; both sections will be clearly marked.
**I'll be referring to the Protag as "Hibiki" throughout as this hews back to the anime version and it's the name I usually use for him
Two things right off the bat:
1) Change your sound settings. For some reason the audio mix was a little off when I started the game and I've read similar complaints elsewhere; the BGM can sometimes drown out the voice acting. Just pop into settings and kick the character voices up; you'll be good to go.
2) The game offers you a choice of whether to start on the Septentrione or the Triangulum arc. I would actually recommend that both newbies and veterans start with the Septentrione arc. If you're new to the series, unless you start out on the Septentrione arc you're going to miss a lot of in-jokes, references, and understanding of character evolution. Additionally, for veterans, some of the bosses you'll fight in the Triangulum arc can be toughies; it's nice to be able to start from a clear file with some demons on hand or the ability to fuse high-level demons. If you're all about the difficulty and worry that playing on a clear file will take away from the experience, kick it up to Apocalypse mode.
Now let's get to the good stuff:
As far as gameplay goes, fans will be content to know that everything is here - with a few bonuses. There are new and fairly badass skills to crack (ShieldEX, for example, is an automatic shield-all at the beginning of a battle) and there are new (hilarious) optional battles like Frost Five. Additionally, you'll be able to fuse and purchase demons to your heart's content.
The "regular" fighting - with run-of-the-mill demons and humans - is pretty standard DeSu2. The boss fights in the Triangulum arc, however, are pretty interesting and several of them present unique strategic challenges. I learned from my own idiocy that it's important to pay attention to information about the boss fights - many of them require certain steps/elements to be completed. Even better, the Triangulum arc really sort of forces you to focus on your demons - you'll be much better off with certain species than others, and breeding resistances and strengths into them helps a lot.
Finally, the voice acting is an added element in DeSu2:RB and with a few minor exceptions I thought it hugely enhanced the game. There's no access to the Japanese voice-acting, so you'll be hearing the English voice actors - and I must say that I was pleased in general by the choices.
The women were all standouts: Fumi, Otome, Makoto, Airi, Hinako, and Miyako all sounded exactly right to me. I'll admit I was particularly fond of Fumi's voice; Shelley Calene-Black captured her deadpan, disinterest and cynicism perfectly.
As for the men, both Benjamin Diskin and Kaiji Tang nailed it as Daichi and Yamato, respectively. Diskin captures everything that makes Daichi Daichi and just really fleshed out his personality. And it's funny, but Tang as Yamato sounds exactly like how I felt Yamato should sound before I watched the anime (where I was startled to find him voiced by the Japanese seiyuu Suwabe Junichi). As Yamato is my favorite character in the series, I was thrilled by that. So those were the two most stellar performances, followed closely by Joe (Yuri Lowenthal) and Ronaldo. I think Jungo's voice jarred me the most, and Keita's as well - the voice acting was good, but it was a matter of the characters simply not being voiced in the way that I expected.
In short: if you already loved DeSu2, you'll enjoy the challenges and new stuff here in terms of gameplay. And if you're a newbie to the series, this will be the perfect introduction.
With that out of the way, let's move on to a discussion of the content. Here I'll be focusing on the Triangulum arc since that's the "new" material, so spoilers will abound. You've been warned!
When I initially heard that there would be a new arc for this game, I worried it might be a blatant money grab a la Hakuouki: a hollow little story meant to do nothing more than sell a few extra copies. To my delight, though, the Triangulum arc in particular really devotes itself to evolving the relationships between the characters and fleshing out the arcs already in play.
If the Septentrione arc is devoted to battling ideologies and your efforts to get multiple characters with multiple agendas on one page, the Triangulum arc is interested in what happens after everyone comes to an understanding: relationships are already in place, the main principles of the fight agreed upon. And since nobody's duking it out over whether the old world, a meritocracy, or an egalitarian world is the best, that means there's a lot of character development in the works here. Now that everybody's on the same side, we get to see how they relate to each other and how they work together to save what needs saving.
I'm particularly delighted, as a Yamato fan, that this game really hinges to some degree on his importance to his friends and the necessity of his presence in the world - not just because he's a capable strategist and leader, but because he is a dear friend even to those who don't understand him. While the original DeSu2 showed us a Yamato who doesn't understand the idea of friendship, who is isolated by his intellect and his perceptions of the world (see my analysis here), the Triangulum arc shows us an evolved Yamato who is willing to sacrifice for others (especially Hibiki, and yes, that ship essay is coming posthaste), who has come to believe in the potential of mankind, and who wants humans to be able to live on their own terms. It is his end from which the title ("Record Breaker") comes, and his which is the most hopeful; the Triangulum arc is the exploration of how he's grown and evolved into a person who, yes, is still sometimes arrogant and condescending, but who cares about and is cared for by the people around him.
The kicker, though - and what makes the Triangulum arc stand out for me - is that it manages to showcase the evolution of every single character in the game, in a way that actually made me love them more than I did in the original series. The new arc gives the characters a chance to look back on their old lives and their past ideas and to confront them honestly, to admit their faults and to grow. I've never been a Ronaldo fan, but seeing him serve as Joe's wingman in the Triangulum arc and watching him critique his own ideas made me really, really enjoy him this go-round. Fumi's forced to confront the aspects of the world that she doesn't understand and can't measure. Makoto's reconciled her loyalty with her personal beliefs. And although I was worried Miyako's character would feel tacked-on (or like Yamato 2.0) she feels...well, actually she feels like Alcor 2.0: a person with noble intentions who doesn't really get humanity. Where Alcor is ruled by hope, she is ruled by fear - and though she only has a chance to develop over the course of the Triangulum arc, she comes out of it with a decent amount of depth.
The biggest surprise to me in this regard is Daichi. He's always been a "good" character to me and Hibiki's best buddy, but the Triangulum arc just elevates him beyond my wildest dreams. Yes, he's a bro and a buddy and a goof and sometimes he screws up a lot, but in this arc he's overcome so much of his timidity and angst and even in his moments of cowardice serves as the absolute heart of the group.
Whenever I search for a word to describe the content in this arc, all I can think of is "touching." It's touching to see the gang storm the Astrolabe to save Yamato, with Daichi admitting that they want "Prince Arrogant" around. It's touching to see Yamato's devotion to maintaining Hibiki's data, and his hope in what a new world might be. It's touching to see Alcor and Yamato make amends, to glimpse Ronaldo's growing self-awareness, to see Joe still be unbelievably Joe while the world is falling apart.
In short, what the Triangulum arc manages is to give us much more than another adventure with characters we love. It gives them a chance to grow and become their full selves, and the delight of watching them do it makes Record Breaker worth every single penny I spent on it.
Go. Buy this game. And as for me, I'll be writing up a Yamato character analysis as well as separate YamaHibi essay for Record Breaker. If you're interested in seeing me write about other characters as well, leave me a message here or on Tumblr.