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


Gameplay

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!

Content


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.


22 comments:

  1. Can you do a character analysis on Miyako? I am a fan of her. And even though it's short, I enjoyed watching her interaction with Yamato, so I want to know how you think about it.

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    1. I can indeed get to work on one. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  2. Thank you! I really love Miyako! I've watched all of her scenes in hope to understand her character, but I think you might notice something that I don't about her. Sorry if I sound demanding, but I was really intrigued and amazed when reading your character analysis about Hibiki, Alcor, and Yamato. That's why I suggested for you to do the same for Miyako.

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  3. I'm second to the suggestion above. Miyako is the type of female character that I love! I love her interaction with Anguished One and Yamato!

    When I played the game and found out about the second world, I kinda hoping Atlus will make another Devil Survivor 2 game, but the setting is in the second world before the Triangulum Arc start and the main character is of course, Yamato! Because I don't think Yamato grow to care about the other party members (not including Hibiki) that much in Septentrione Arc from the beginning until the end, so I think Yamato's growth toward the other party members actually happened in the second world where Hibiki didn't exist. So the game will focus more on Yamato's growth. I know that it's highly unlikely for Atlus to release another Devil Survivor 2 game, but it's not wrong for me to wish for it, right?

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    1. It's interesting to think about what might have happened in between? I love the idea of focusing on Yamato's growth too - it's not wrong to wish for it at all! I'd take a thousand games on Yamato alone.

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  4. You said you're going to write Yamato's character analysis again. Are you going to edit the previous Yamato character analysis or you're going to make a new one?

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    1. I am going to write a new one that is Triangulum-centric.

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    2. Okay. Looking forward to it! Other than Yamato, do you have any other characters in your mind to write? How long does it take to write analysis? :D

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    3. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month or so since I have other (paying) projects to work on - but I will be writing one on Miyako and one on Io as well.

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  5. That was a really nice review though I'm quite sure if you have the luxury to do so, you could've written much more. There is so much to write/talk about the additions Record Breaker did to the already excellent character development the cast received in the original DS version.

    Since I just came across your blog today (after reading your YamaHibi analysis of course), I wonder if you are an active gamer. If so, may I recommend Fire Emblem Awakening? Sure it is fanservicey and have many anime character tropes but I'm fairly certain you'll be able to unearth something in that game.

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    1. I actually do separate analyses to cover the characterization stuff since you're right - there is SO much of it here. I'm working on one for Yamato, Miyako, and Io as we speak.

      And yes, I'm an active gamer and I lived for FE:A. Love it. I've been longing to write something about it, too - and now you're inspiring me to do so just so that I have an excuse to replay it again. Dying for FE: if, too!

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    2. Thanks for replying. This is the same anon that you replied to.

      I'll be looking forward to those character analyses! After replaying the Triumphant End and the Record Breaker Endings, I've been reading through other's opinions thoughts about the game just to see if they can point out something that I didn't notice before. That's when I came across someone (a YamaHibi shipper) who posted links to your ship analysis. It is a very interesting read. I've always known about the hints the ship throughout the Sept Arc but reading your take on them made me see things I didn't see.

      Two of the things that I like very much are character-driven stories and large ensemble casts. That's why I like games like Devil Survivor 2 and FE:A as well as anime like Durarara. In the Sept Arc, I like that the character's Fate Events, while they deal with the individual character development, they showcase the game's theme of uniting different wills to a common goal. I like that they show you that even though you and another person have different ideologies, people can still come to an understanding which is shown by being able to recruit a character when you reach Fate lvl 4. I noticed that Tri Arc's Fate Events shows a lot more interaction between multiple characters.

      Really, this game can be so thought provoking. Hinako's and Airi's Fate Route for example are very interesting for those who had ambitions or dreams that are not "practical". I'm sure many people are passionate about things like art, literature and other things. Hinako had to deal to face the general perception that its impractical to pursue passions like that. Then we have Airi, who had accepted that consensus but still is bitter about it.

      Also, another thing I found interesting in the Tri Arc was the comments made by the JPs ladies about Yamato and Miyako's differences. It showed that Yamato really believed in his merit system and applied it when running JPs. He gave the party freedom during their stay in JPs because they've proven their worth. When I looked backed at the events in the Sept Arc, it was indeed true. Then there was also the fact that Fumi had more liberties in JPs when Yamato is the chief. It really shows that Yamato was a great representative of the meritocracy route than Ronaldo ever was in the egalitarian route.

      I'm really sorry if I typed a really long comment on your blog. I've been wanting to put into words the thoughts that have been on my mind for quite sometime. Perhaps I should create my own account for this stuff?

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  6. Hello. Nice to meet you. It's been months already, and you haven't write any analyses about Miyako, Yamato, or other characters for the Triangulum Arc. I don't know if you forget or decided not to write it, so I want to make sure, can I still hope you will make the analyses?

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    1. I will get to the analyses eventually! I am starting a new writing career and so it has taken up a lot of my time. There isn't as much time for fandom work as there was before, but they will happen eventually. Thanks for continuing to be patient!

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  7. I see. Okay, I'll patiently wait for the analyses to come out. I can wait no matter how many weeks, months, or even years for it to come out :D

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    1. Thank you, Sartika! Is there an analysis you are specially hoping for? I will do my best to get started on it first, if so!

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    2. I specially hoping for Miyako since she's the newest character and my number 1 favourite female character. I can wait for Hibiki, Yamato, or the others later.

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  8. I have a request, it has nothing to do with character analysis or such. Will it be okay I ask for your help?

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    1. What is the request? I am moving right now so I am staying pretty busy and am not always available on the internet, but I will try to help if I can - and if not, I can try to guide you to where you can find help.

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    2. It's not difficult. You see, I have a final exam soon. One of the exams, Japanese Computer, every student must create a blog and must have at least five or more Blog Followers and comments in the blog. Can you please Follow my blog and comment one of the post at least until my exam score is announced (around February)? Afterwards, you can stop following my blog.

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    3. Thank you very much! I owe you one! If there's something that I can help you with, please tell me. I'll help!

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