eirikr's Devil Summoner: Kuzunoha Raidou tai Abaddon Ou (PlayStation 2) review

Not quite Devil Summoner 3, but it’s definitely Devil Summoner 2.

Atlus’s creative director and infamous demon designer Kazuma Kaneko stated that Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon would seem like the third in the series, such would be its improvements and refinements over the first game, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army. What this loaded statement doesn’t take into account is that Soulless Army was more like Devil Summoner 0.5, with a simplistic battle system and a plot that took too long to turn its gears. And while the new elements in King Abaddon are of a great caliber, the leftovers from Soulless Army’s assets and design philosophy keep it from achieving a more broad appeal and the true change that came from touting it as “Devil Summoner 3.”

Gouto the cat is, ironically, your go-to man.
King Abaddon’s plot starts off on a greater and much faster note than the first. From the get-go, titular Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha and detective agency crew are thrust headfirst into a missing persons case that takes a number of turns, involving lots of bugs, a mysterious village, and a whole lotta luck. There is no voice acting to speak of in Devil Summoner 2, which may come as a shock after the speech-heavy Persona 4. It’s a shame, too, as the dialogue is interesting and carefully localized in a 1920’s detective style, and characters still display enough personality to come off as being likeable (or unlikable), despite the boring detective work segments that surmount to nothing more than talking to random NPCs. And you might not notice it unless you’re looking for it, but the alignment system from past Shin Megami Tensei games makes a welcome return here, through certain dialogue choices that ultimately have a minor effect on the game’s outcome.

On the surface, if you’ve played Soulless Army, it will look like you’ve played King Abaddon, too – the game recycles most of the pre-rendered backgrounds from the first game. To offset this, there is a large area in the game that is all new, but some of its more forested areas have a particularly washed-out look to them that makes navigation more difficult than it should be, downright forcing you at times to catch your bearings through the automap. Many of the 3D character and demon models are also reused but are at least expressive and don’t undermine the gameplay in ways the pre-rendered backgrounds sometimes can. However, King Abaddon still has enough stylistic chops and penis demons riding chariots to belie the relative weaknesses of the PlayStation 2.

A devil summoner without MAG is like a society without ignorance.
What will keep you engrossed are the overall mechanics of the battle and demon systems, areas that see the most improvement over Soulless Army. Instead of taking place on pre-rendered backgrounds like the first game, the battlefields are now in full 3D, which is more than just an aesthetic improvement and gives the action fluidity and speed Soulless Army lacked, which is a good thing considering the frequency of the random encounters. Raidou’s basic battle abilities have also been streamlined to resemble a more proper 3D action game. On the defensive side he can block and perform an evasive roll that’s also useful for moving along the battlefield quicker. Offensively, the elemental bullets of the first game have been ditched in favor of his gun serving a more complementary position to his basic sword combos, which include special attacks that consume the demon life force known as Magnetite, or MAG.

As a Devil Summoner, balancing your MAG is one of the key aspects of the battle system. MAG serves as a type of MP, with its gameplay twist being another take on the Press Turn system from Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne or the knock-down attacks from Personas 3 and 4. When enemies are struck with their weakness, they get stunned, allowing Raidou to beat the MAG out of them – literally. As Raidou can now summon two demons to battle with him at once, MAG expenditure is a balancing act between using demon abilities like Agi or Zio spells, and gaining enough back from the stunned demon. It’s fun and satisfying to set alight Jack Frost or his kin and see the green stuff flying. It’s not Devil May Cry, but the MAG system adds some depth and strategy to battles that are otherwise simplistic, repetitive, and sometimes downright easy.

Why's the world look so flat, ho?
If you’d rather keep your enemies closer to you, King Abaddon allows you to negotiate with the demons for various results, the best of which is getting them to join your cause. The negotiations can be humorous, but also somewhat irritating when they seem to lose pattern – a successful conversation with a demon could require a totally different answer than with an identical clone you’ll run into a couple minutes later. Still, it’s another welcome change that diversifies your options in the frequent battles. Also, in keeping with the game’s luck theme, Raidou can obtain random bonuses or penalties before some battles start, from earning extra experience to having his demons sealed away for the battle. Low luck also means a higher chance of irritating enemy ambushes that can easily shave off 100 or more HP from all members of your party, but overall, since much of the story is themed around luck and that Raidou himself can eventually manipulate his own, these mechanics essentially break even.

It's because she's Irish.

To stand the best chance of rounding up the most optimal demonic companions, you’ll have to make good use of the Goumaden. Run by the mad scientist Victor, the Goumaden allows you to fuse a pair of demons or even Raidou’s swords into more powerful forms. While largely the same as the Velvet Room or Cathedral of Shadows from other Shin Megami Tensei games, the way it integrates basic demon mechanics such as their loyalty to Raidou gives the Goumaden a truly addictive edge. When a demon’s loyalty is maxed through points gained after battles, they gain a passive skill that enhances their abilities. When this demon is fused, its passive skill is carried over to the resulting one, into a permanent general pool that can be manually selected. This is a vast improvement over previous games where the only way to get the abilities you want was random chance through canceling in and out of the fusion menu. Granted, demons’ battle abilities are still selected through such a method, but the passive skill system definitely softens the need to do so and is a great step forward.

Despite the muted characters, the remaining audio is highlighted by the various noises each of the demons make and the catchy soundtrack by series mainstay Shoji Meguro. The guitar-laden battle themes in particular – Meguro’s bread and butter – are suitably energetic or tense when the situation needs it. Like other elements in the game, some of the music is lifted directly from Soulless Army, which had a relatively weak soundtrack, but what’s new is definitely of a higher quality.

Persona fans who are intrigued that King Abaddon shares the Shin Megami Tensei name should pause to consider that Raidou’s latest adventure is more similar to actual Shin Megami Tensei games like Nocturne. For that crowd, King Abaddon’s darker tone and more stoic characterization may disappoint those looking to eat some ramen and get it on after school. While dedicated fans should be satisfied, Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon’s occasional stumbles don’t mar its status as an overall improved sequel that’s a recommended way for others to discover what the greater Shin Megami Tensei series is all about.

Posted by Intrepid

Cool! Nice review.  The QL got me interested as I've never played a SMT: Devil Summoner before.  I might just have to pick it up.

Posted by coffeesash

I don't agree with the score, it's a 2 1/2 for me, but a very good review. :)

Posted by Det1

well it's what I always wanted in my persona games (less turn based&fussy gameplay).
Might as well check it out when I have the time...
I still think it looks really ugly from a technical perspective though. Fuck it, can't be worse than the resident evil 4 PC port.

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

I'm kind of interested in this one. I've beaten Persona 3, and I'm pretty far into Persona 4, but I can't find SMT Nocturne or Digital Devil Saga 1/2 ANYWHERE, so I might pick this one up to scratch my SMT itch. :D

Posted by Eirikr

Yeah, the game is pretty ugly at times, but the demon designs provide most of the graphical charm with their variety and craziness.

One thing for the Persona crowd: if you loved collecting and fusing personas, you will enjoy this game. Plus, fusing is more important this time around, as you're creating party members instead of just on the fly face changes for the MC.

Posted by Egge

Well-written and informative review. I'm definitely more interested in continuing my playthrough of Nocturne than buying this game, though...

Posted by Eirikr
@Egge: Do so -- Nocturne is the much better game.

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