By Jacob 23.11.2013
With the excellent Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl recently on store shelves, one can see Atlus defining a general strategy of remaking its older DS tiles for the newer 3DS, hoping to expand the reach of its trademark franchises. However, different methods at play can clearly be seen. On the one hand, with Untold Atlus went for a full overhaul that touched nearly every element of the game, modernising the presentation while polishing the gameplay. On the other hand, with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked Atlus has decided on a more subdued approach. With this in mind, can the company succeed in making an old game feel fresh again?
The premise driving Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked is intriguing, to say the least. A group of teenaged friends is trapped in Tokyo when the city becomes inexplicably overrun with demons. Infrastructure crumbles, disasters pile up, and a sense of impending danger is palpable. Power runs out, cell phones cease to function, and the luxuries of the modern world fail when they are needed most.
To cope with this, our teen heroes are given special tools called "COMPS" from a creepy friend whose motives (and whereabouts) are unclear. The COMPS give the characters the ability to summon their own demons, allowing them to defend themselves and others in battle. The COMPS also keep receiving cryptic emails from the future warning them of looming disasters.
If all this wasn't bad enough, the tool also allows the main character - the player avatar - to see the "death clock" suspended above people's heads - how much time they have left to live - and it's very rarely a favourable number for the unfortunate teens. This device drives the action more than any other, as the player and his team are always quite literally hours or days from their demise. The player's actions will determine whether death and failure triumph in the end. It's a crazy world out there!
If the premise sounds exciting, it's because it genuinely is. However, even with such a thrilling foundation, the actual execution has its flaws. For one, the dialogue at times borders on cringe-worthy. Players may find themselves skipping through chunks at a time. The story would also benefit from better characters; from the squad's loud stereotypical female Yuzuu, to Otaku friend Atsuro who is trying far too hard to make geek culture references; there are no real standouts here. The world-ending scenario is great; the rest leaves something to be desired.
One of the few additions to this remake is full voice-acting, and it comes off surprisingly well. It won't compete with the best work in the industry by any means, but it generally succeeds in bringing character to the dystopian world. There's none of that feeling of claustrophobia that can accompany silent games. At times the voice work can be grating, but then it's hard to tell if that's the fault of the actors or the writers.
The gameplay, then, is the anchor to hold everything together, and thankfully it's the most reliable part of the package. The system at use here is an amalgam of styles. On the overhead map, the player will move his characters around as if in a TBS game, akin to Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. However, once enemy contact has been initiated, the battling is more in line with standard RPG turn-based fighting where the on-map character serves as the leader for a three-person team.
Each team is led by a main character; the two remaining slots in the party are filled by tamed demons. The demons allow for a great deal of customisation, in that they can be swapped out at will and fused with other demons to create powerful hybrids. There is even an auction where one can bid on previously conquered demon types. This allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility in team composition. It's no exaggeration to say a great deal of time will be spent agonising over the most efficient combinations.
This mash-up of strategy, standard RPG battling, and catch 'em all, works surprisingly well, but the player will need to be patient. The system is complicated and at times opaque, and not everything will be apparent even after a few hours. In time, the idiosyncrasies of the system will become second nature. However, given the fact that this is a remake of an older game, it's a bit unfortunate that Atlus hasn't included some additional tutorials to smooth out the learning curve.
While the gameplay succeeds without much alteration, the presentation could have done with a more extensive rework. In fact, the visuals are astoundingly unimpressive. It's a bit shocking how audacious Atlus has been releasing a game that shows so little visual upgrade over its DS forerunner. Most of the game has no 3D effect to speak of either - it's been added in for a few bits and pieces but the vast majority of the game does not even feature the option. Many find the 3D effect irrelevant and allow it to go unused, but it's the fact that Atlus did not even bother that generally defines the overall quality of the visual work here. The 2D art carried over from the original DS title - while unique and interesting - simply isn't enough to carry the day on more modern hardware.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked is quite a good game, but in the end still somewhat disappointing as a remake. The premise is fascinating, and the gameplay is fun and challenging. However, remakes offer the chance to revamp an existing title and correct shortcomings. The developers here have been significantly less ambitious. As such, as solid a game as this certainly is, Devil Survivor Overclocked still feels like a missed opportunity.