Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army

It is the year 20 of the Taisho Era in Japan (equivalent to the Gregorian year 1931), and you pass a series of trials that earns you the title of Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th, making you part of a long line of Devil Summoners. You ultimately come to work for a detective named Narumi, and investigate mysterious occurrences around the Capital, soon questing to prevent the city from being swallowed by the forces of darkness. Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, follows your journey through twelve episodes to investigate the Capital while capturing demons and saving the city from impending doom.

While journeying through the Capital, only Raidou can see the many demons wandering its streets, and occasionally encounters them; an indicator that changes from yellow to red shows how close he is to encountering enemies. Battles take place on a static battlefield, with Raidou, his summoned demon, and enemy demons appearing to fight. Unlike previous installments of the Megami Tensei franchise, Devil Summoner’s battles are real-time, with Raidou able to slash enemies with his sword, charge briefly and perform a spinning attack, shoot his gun with various elemental bullets, defend, use items, change his summoned demon, attempt to capture enemy demons, escape, and so forth.

While players manually control Raidou, the A.I. controls the demon, which can be a bit random at times but supposedly improves as that demon’s Loyalty, gained alongside money and experience after battle, accumulates. A demon’s Loyalty ultimately maxes out, after which the player can fuse it with another demon or to Raidou’s sword, improving its stats. Moreover, regardless of Loyalty, players can sacrifice any demon to empower another. Furthermore, at the Gouma-Den, where fusion occurs, players can spend money to heal Raidou and his demons.

Though players can attack normally with Raidou’s sword, he can, as mentioned, fire various elemental bullets, which can at times exploit enemy weaknesses, stunning them for a few seconds; spells cast by the demon you currently have summoned, too, can exploit enemy weaknesses. While enemies are stunned, players can approach them and mash the circle button to attempt to capture them, although other enemies can interrupt and cancel capturing, and if the enemy is too powerful or the player isn’t quick enough, the attempt to capture will fail. Raidou can only hold a certain number of demons, although as Loyalty acquired from battle increases, so does Raidou’s rank, which in turn allows for greater demon capacity.

If a monster has raised at least one level, the player, in battle, can perform a combination attack with the demon when its morale is high enough by simultaneously pressing the cross and square buttons. Outside of battle, Raidou can summon a demon onto the field, sometimes necessary to help solve puzzles or interrogate NPCs; Raidou can also send a demon out solo, for instance, to reach places he can’t reach, during which the solo demons can encounter enemies alone, most with unique controls and abilities.

The battle system is pretty fast and entertaining for the most part, even if many fights, like in previous Megami Tensei games, have a tendency to drop in additional foes when the player has cleared the screen. That battle scenery is static, moreover, pretty much eliminates any camera problems, although a mini-map might’ve been nice, given the tendency of Raidou and his summoned demon at times to become invisible to the player in crowded fights. Though the action of battle pauses when you’re in the battle menu, moreover, an actual pause button might’ve been nice since the player can’t access the battle menu when Raidou is confused or charmed.

Another issue raised has been the difficulty of Devil Summoner, which is less punishing than that of previous Megami Tensei games (though this actually makes it far more accessible to series newcomers than previous installments), although some sidequests can be mildly challenging, and a higher level of difficulty is unlocked when the player completes the game once. Even so, high difficulty isn’t always synonymous with fun, and given the agile pace of combat as well as the enjoyment of experimenting with demon fusion, battles are easily one of the game’s high points.

The interface is spotless for the most part, with clean menus and easy shopping, alongside handy automaps. Moreover, as long as players aren’t in a dungeon, they can instantly return to the Narumi Detective Agency to save, get clues on how to proceed, read synopses of previous episodes, and occasionally advance the plot. There is a minor issue with demon fusion where, if fused demons can inherit skills from their predecessors, the game randomly selects bequeathed skills, although surprisingly, this is less on an issue than in Nocturne since players can just cancel one of the selected demons and reselect it for another skill set, and most of the time, new skill sets are fixed. Overall, there really isn’t much to complain about in the interaction department.

Devil Summoner does somewhat derive its gameplay from its predecessors, such as the enemy weakness system present in Nocturne and the Digital Devil Saga dilogy, many demons, demon capturing, monster fusion, and the like, although there are some unique tweaks such as the overall atmosphere, using demons in detective work, and so forth, that help it feel fresh.

As with most episodic RPGs, unfortunately, the story leaves something to desire, with the plot often seeming disjointed. There really isn’t a whole lot of character development or backstory, either, although there are some okay twists. The localization is functional, using 1920s/30s slang in the dialogue, although Atlus could’ve certainly localized more of the enemy names instead of just romanizing them. As a side note, the game does take place in an alternate-universe Japan since the Taisho Era only lasted for fifteen years. Still, the story could’ve easily used more cohesion and development.

The soundtrack is more acceptable, albeit somewhat repetitive, with few standout tracks. Since the game does take place in Japan, some ethnic pieces might’ve been welcome alongside the dominant jazz tracks, although they do fit the time period of the game. There is no voice acting, although monsters do have some voice clips in battle. Nonetheless, the aurals are hardly a reason to buy the game.

The visuals, though, shine more brightly. Devil Summoner depends far more heavily upon still pre-rendered environments than other Playstation 2 games or its predecessors, which is fitting since many places in the game are based on actual locations in Tokyo. The character models are decent, as well, albeit somewhat grainy when small; however, the game interestingly has many non-interactive NPCs wandering the streets of the Capital, providing a more realistic milieu as opposed to say, a lesser number of wandering NPCs you can speak to (although these do exist). The character and monster designs themselves are above-average, and there are a few FMVs that look nice as well. Overall, a decent-looking game.

Playing time, finally, ranges from twenty-five to forty hours, with new playthrough cycles adding to this playtime. All in all, Devil Summoner is a welcome addition to the series, effectively implementing the ideas of its predecessors in real-time combat and featuring decent presentation and clean interaction. The story probably won’t intrigue you all that greatly, and it might disappoint series fans looking for a challenge, but Devil Summoner, nonetheless, is perhaps a better introduction to the series for newcomers than say, the Persona games, or any prior Megami Tensei titles.

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