Monday, June 1, 2015

RPG Talk: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker

I finished Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker's Triangulum Arc this weekend and it was a real joy from start to finish.

Devil Survivor 2 for the Nintendo DS took its time earning my affection. At first I really couldn't decide whether I liked it or its older sibling, the original Devil Survivor more, but as a gamer, I suppose the proof is really in how much time you spend with a game, how hard you try to complete all the extras.

By that measure, Devil Survivor 2 ranks up there as one of my all time favorites, one of the games I would take with me if I was stuck on the hypothetical deserted island.

It's not that it's a flawless game, but it's delivers everything it promises. There's no throwing the game at the wall for story or game mechanics that come out of nowhere, and when you win a tough battle it totally feels like you earned it.

The cast is almost completely gender balanced, with seven recruitable males and six recruitable females (the main character is unfortunately set as male, which is too bad since he's player named). What this allows for is a wide range of personalities, and this is particularly noticeable with the female characters.

None of them are forced into the role of representing for the entire gender, so there's a lot of room for a variety of characters, and half of them hold positions of authority within the secretive JP's organization, whether as a doctor, researcher, or military officer. The artwork is unfortunately male gazey, but their behavior is not. The game easily passes the Bechdel test, and none of them are ever the helpless, whiny girl there to hold the team back. They're not all made of steel, but each one is fully capable of pulling herself together.

Though the cast is crowded with a total of 14 playable characters, each with their own subplots, it manages to do a fairly good job of it. The cast size is one of the reasons that I initially was unsure how much I liked the game, because there is so much game time spent getting to know everyone that DeSu2 loses the tension that ran through the first game, where time is very much a precious commodity you will never have enough of.

But now that I do know everyone, they're collectively one of my favorite casts in any game ever.

The Triangulum Arc is essentially a sequel storyline packed in with the original Septentrion Arc in the in the 3DS re-release, Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. Atlus thoughtfully allowed for players to jump immediately into the new Triangulum Arc without replaying the Septentrion Arc, which I did.

Considering that the original Septentrion storyline had five different endings based on player decisions, I was curious how they were going to handle the Triangulum Arc, and they basically merged two of the endings to make a sixth that allows for the necessary storyline to take place (because it honestly wouldn't work in any of the five legitimately obtainable endings).

I found I didn't mind this, because that means that none of the original five endings are the "real" one, so any of them could be. (I founded a meritocracy with Yamato my first playthrough, so that's my headcanon.) To me, the Triangulum Arc is still just one possibility based on choices the protagonist might have made throughout the storyline, even though the player could not do so while in command of him.

But that doesn't mean it's not a good story on its own.

The Triangulum Arc starts after the world has been regressed to an earlier state, undoing all the damage that had happened during the Septentrion Arc, and introduces the new female character Miyako Hotsuin, who appears to have taken Yamato's place in the restored world.

Despite having saved the world from an otherworldly administrator beyond our reality, the world doesn't enjoy the peace that it should have, so the plot is rife with people trying to figure out what went wrong and why extradimensional beings are invading again. Worse, the cast is initially split up all over Japan because they had lost their memories in the restored world and the protagonist and his friends put a priority on reuniting the team.

As more and more of the cast join together, it's possible to see how they've grown since their ordeals in the the Septentrion Arc (the Triangulum Arc behaves as if everyone had lived and their subplots followed to completion). Friendships are stronger. They're better people than they were.

I loved spending another round of adventure with these characters, and due to the way time is managed in the game, I know I haven't seen even half of the sub-plot scenes. The fun part in following their new sub-plots is seeing what they plan to do with their futures now that they remember everything they did to earn them. They continue to grow and try to be better people than they were, while still remaining recognizably the characters I fell in love with in the first place.

The Triangulum Arc also feels more tightly written than its predecessor. I suspect a lot of this is aided by the audience and the characters already knowing each other, but it's also a shorter storyline than the original (though not as short as it would initially have you think). I finished in just over 40 hours, but I was definitely taking my time. Other estimates would place it closer to 25-30.

I only have a small complaint as far as replay goes. Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker uses the same Title system as the original DeSu2 but adds very few titles specific to the Triangulum Arc. Titles are essentially achievements the player can earn in game to make subsequent playthroughs easier.

Each title is worth a certain amount of points depending on how difficult it is to achieve, and then points are spent on perks for the next playthrough. For instance, I completed the game without a single human character falling in battle, which was worth 200 points, but raising Fate to rank 5 (essentially finishing a character's sub-plot) for an individual character is only worth 10.

Because the Septentrion Arc is longer, it's easier to finish sub-plots, and there are bonus bosses on New Game+ that allow the easy accumulation of even more Titles. (With five endings in the original DeSu2, it's nice that each ending progressively gets easier and easier to obtain.)

It will be a bit harder replaying for the extra Triangulum endings since I'll have less to work with, but it might be worth taking a spin down memory lane since there is a hefty Title bonus for having finished both arcs in Record Breaker.

One of the things that Record Breaker is supposed to have done is fix some translation errors in the original Septentrion Arc. There were a few things that were a bit murky for me in the original storyline, so those might have been fixed. The other bonus is that Record Breaker is now entirely voiced save for mid-combat dialogue.

It took a little time to get used to character voices since I already had established my own mental image for how characters sounded, but most of the voice actors eventually won me over. Kaiji Tang is perfect as Yamato, which was a big concern for me considering how the anime series had grossly misinterpreted Yamato's character, but Tang totally balances Yamato's arrogance with his respect and naivete.

Ben Diskin's Daichi was probably the hardest for me to get used to. While he plays Daichi's dorkiness exactly as it should be, it was his voice itself that I found the most jarring since he just didn't have the right sound I expected. My mental voice for Daichi was higher pitched than he turned out (more like Atsuro in the first Devil Survivor).

Still, I had a great time and I'm a little sad that it's all over again.

There will be replays, but the story's done and the cast have earned their happy ending many times over, so I wouldn't want to put them through the wringer again. They survived.