Review: SMT Devil Survivor: Overclocked

I’ll start by saying I’m not a gamer. I feel I used to be, back when I’d play everything from racing games to FPSes to adventure titles day after day. Within the last few years, I’ve become pretty jaded with the gaming industry and decided to focus my disposal income elsewhere (read: comics and food. Mostly comics). Recently, a good friend recommended Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked, a remake of the original Devil Survivor, for the 3DS. Suggestions from Inverseman, and Pluffei’s sequel review also helped drive me to pick it up. I do enjoy tactical RPGs, but little did I realize just how great a game this would be.

Overclocked begins simply and stereotypically enough: a group of teenagers in Tokyo are given modified gaming machines (called COMPs) which allow them to make contracts with and control demons. Almost instantly, Tokyo is placed under lockdown by government forces. As tensions rise among the people trapped within, our heroes fight against rogue demons and demon tamers, becoming embroiled in a conflict whose implications extend far beyond Tokyo…

The gameplay in Overclocked involves multiple battles. The style of these skirmishes is quite intuitive, acting as an overworld for a tactical RPG, a la Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, before switching to a versus screen with the enemy upon entering combat, similar to Dragon Warrior Monster. The team battling is lots of fun, and encourages the player to think of creative combinations of monsters, as well as what abilities to give the team leader, a human. Pick the right skill set for the job and you’ll find a team that can crush even the toughest demons! Best of all, the skills for your humans aren’t permanently locked, so you can mix and match as you see fit, or even change before battle.

The overworld battle screen. Shown here is the game’s first major boss battle against Beldr, an immortal demon.

Unlocking skills involves a method called Skill Cracking, whereby if a certain character defeats an enemy holding the skill, your entire party gains access to it; to prevent overstacking of abilities and encourage versatility, however, only one of your team leaders is allowed to know a specific skill. Your demons, however, are allowed to learn skills after you amass enough Magnetite, an energy generated by winning conflicts; this permits multiple demons to learn the same skill. For instance, only one of your humans can know Drain, but if you want it on every demon you control go right ahead (once you amass the requisite Magnetite, of course).

Aside from battling, there is a lot to do in Overclocked. Between story battles, your party can journey to different parts of Tokyo to talk with and meet various characters. Who you choose to interact with and when will influence future portions of the story, but you’re never strong-armed into a choice: you can totally ignore certain characters if you want. Furthermore, in between battles you can purchase further demons through an auction system, or breed your demons to create stronger ones! The breeding also allows you a degree of freedom when tailoring the skills the resultant demon will know, which adds another layer of customization to the game.

An example of character interaction featuring two of the main female leads, Yuzu, the childhood friend character, and Haru, the token celebrity with a troubled past.

The graphics in  this game are nothing amazing, and the 3D is totally unnecessary. The art for the character and demon models, in contrast, is praiseworthy. I love how the demons actually look demonic: some of them are absolutely hideous, while others are terrifying or disturbing (I’m looking at you, Legion). Of course, the game does have a few “nicer” looking critters, but the variance of appearence is welcome. The demons in the game draw inspiration from every culture and myth you can imagine: if you’ve ever wanted to command Loki and Amaterasu at the same time, this game is for you. Even Aztec, Judeo-Christian, Indian, and Eastern European creatures make the cut! The multitude of demons really lets the player choose the exact party he or she wants, though regrettably it’s hard to keep a demon on for too long as the EXP required to level up gets exponentially higher, and bred demons usually start at a higher level with lower experience thresholds.

The plot of the game is quite creative. Things start off in a rather mundane “hey let’s protect people and try to survive!” manner, but things heat up quickly. The plot is multi-layered and every character is really well-developed; one character I found myself liking for the first third of the game I grew to hate, before liking him again towards the end thanks to exquisite character exploration. The game also surprised me several times, and I’d be hard pressed to find someone who could see every plot point coming. There aren’t any wild twists, but there are enough turns to keep someone intrigued.

Arioch, one of the demons you can summon and control in-game. For your own safety, please don’t stare at him too long.

Overclocked offers multiple endings, and thus provides great replayability. Furthermore, given the numerous small choices you can make, how you get to each ending can also vary. The way you choose your endings is also nice as the game doesn’t strong-arm you: I made almost entirely “good guy” choices for the first 2/3 of the game, but decided “screw it, I wanna be a bad guy!” towards the end! The game left me this option entirely open and didn’t penalize me for going against the grain of my earlier choices. This is where I feel the game really shines.

Morality is a difficult thing to balance in games, and often leads to video game protagonists turning into Puppy-Kicking Villains, Ignoring-Everyone Neutrals, and Would-Sacrifice-My-Own-Life-To-Save-One-Kitty Heroes. Overclocked avoids this entirely. As I said previously, you can make whatever choice you want whenever you want. I feel this reflects human morality and choice very well, even if you’re only given two options in most cases. Honestly, sometimes people will change their views, even from moment to moment, and this game expresses that idea well. I do wish they’d have offered more options in each situation, but that may have needlessly complicated the game.

Foreshadowing for the win?

When it comes to choices, however, all was not perfect. In a few instances where the story wanted to push you in one way the “choice” was not a choice after all. For instance, in one case, I was asked if I cared about something. Upon choosing that I didn’t care, another character piped up and said, “Oh he’s just kidding!” and I ended up having to help someone out anyway. Some of the choices also seem to hint that your character knows more than you, as the player, do and by guessing you look like you’re “in the know” despite having no way to realize such things. Even so, these instances were few and far between, and ultimately didn’t detract much from my gaming experience.

Another downside of this game is the grinding. During the early and mid-game I was always leveled enough for every battle as long as I did one or two extra battles in between to generate some experience. Towards the end, however, it felt like every enemy took a level in badass and I found myself grinding for at least an hour between every major fight in the final third of the game. I think the designer did want to show the final enemies really were that powerful, but it would’ve been nice if they’d inserted more plot-battles in between so I could gain experience while making it feel relevant. I must note, however, that there is an Easy Mode in the game for people who just want to learn the story, but honestly at that point I’d say just read plot summaries.

Overall, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked is a very good game. The plot is intriguing, the demon designs are great, the gameplay is superb, and the ability to make decisions of any moral color at any point in the game is welcome. I think this game would appeal to most people, though if you don’t have the patience for some grinding in the late game then steer clear. The game is challenging at times but the reward is well worth it when finally beating the final boss!

Rating Breakdown
The style of tactical RPG combined with monster-battle system works well together. Exploring Tokyo between battles is also well done and leaves lots of options.
The plot starts off rather generically, but quickly becomes layered and intriguing.
The game looks and feels great as you play, but nothing really stands out to me.
The characters are varied and deep. While a few are annoying, most are memorable, likable, and well-developed.
The art is superb, especially when it comes to the demon designs.
The fact that didn't comment on the music earlier in the review speaks volumes (no pun intended). It's not memorable whatsoever, but it isn't unbearably bad, either. The voice acting is pretty good, but ultimately didn't add much to my gaming experience.
A truly fun RPG that will entertain even the pickiest fans of the genre and the most casual of gamers.


Miscellaneous details:
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Nintendo
Notable People Involved: Shinjiro Takada, Suzuhito Yasuda, Kazuma Kaneko
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Tatical RPG
Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: August 23, 2011

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  1. I played the normal Devil Survivor version in DS but do you know any difference between that and the overclocked version? I think the overclocked version has voice acting if I'm not mistaken..

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