Raising the dead has become the next new thing. After Persona 5 took the world by storm, Atlus brought back Shin Megami Tensei 5 and now it’s going for Soul Hackers 2. This trend of reviving games from old series follows New Pokémon Snap, NEO: The World Ends With You, and other games brought back from purgatory. Now there’s one more series that Atlus should take a crack at, and it’s Devil Survivor.
Devil Survivor is just one of many Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series, but it was one of the most successful and one of the earliest that was readily available for Nintendo consoles worldwide. It was advertised as Shin Megami Tensei spinoff from the start, as evidenced by its full name, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor.
So what separates Devil Survivor from the other Shin Megami Tensei games?
Well, Devil Survivor spins the typical turn-based combat and demon summoning into a strategy roleplaying game. Think Fire Emblem, but Shin Megami Tensei. Each character fights with a team of demons, much like the setup in the core series. However, players control multiple teams of these characters. You command characters and their parties across the field, allocating resources to defeat hoards of demons and meet objectives on a grid map.
Henry Gilbert, who reviewed the original Devil Survivor for Games Radar, notes that the battles “deepen dramatically” with the number of decisions players have to juggle. “Do you quickly kill the central enemy or attack its support characters first to get more experience and cash? Do you skip an attack this turn to go earlier next turn? These are just some of the decisions that make the fast-paced battles so addicting as you and your collection of demons fight for good,” he writes.
Even better, the demon summoning program offers players multiple options for how to fuse their demons to become stronger. It layers the already in-depth strategy for the game and could be a lifesaver in the tougher late-game battles, depending on your fusions. This somewhat overlaps with Shin Megami Tensei proper, though the stats are more dependent on whether demons were raised from a lower level or caught specifically for fusing.
Devil Survivor also shares some themes with Shin Megami Tensei, especially moral ambiguity and the conflict between order and chaos. Both the original and the sequel masterfully juggle these concepts and story beats, which leads to multiple outcomes like in other MegaTen games and their spinoffs. So the game reinforces that your decisions matter and lives are on the line. It also blends in the dynamics between a high school group of friends like Persona to keep some level of levity.
The first Devil Survivor features a high school protagonist and his friends, who are suddenly caught in the middle of a demon outbreak in Tokyo. They fight using demon summoning devices called COMPs and use them to help demon-hunting law enforcement, unravel the mystery behind the demon attack, and prevent the apocalypse. You have seven days to live, and the clock is ticking — literally. Each character has a death clock that’s in danger of running out. Devil Survivor 2 follows a similar premise, where characters investigate a website that predicts your death, but the characters, motives, and settings differ.
Critics loved Devil Survivor, and it obviously did well enough to warrant a sequel. Both games and their later remasters earned high marks between the high 70s and low 80s. Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker, the remaster of the original Devil Survivor 2, stood out as the highest with a Metacritic score of 84. It even earned an anime of the same name, though how objectively good that was is questionable. (Note that user scores for the games are skewed due to a review-bombing incident from a few years ago.)
I picked up Devil Survivor Overclocked from GameStop in high school, where I honed in on the Shin Megami Tensei title and bought it for sale from the bargain bin. I mistook it for a game from the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series because of its full name, so it ended up being completely different from what I expected, but I’m glad I played it.
It’s been about 7 years since the last Devil Survivor game, which was Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker. There’s been no sign of a Devil Survivor 3, though there’s an apparent interest in it based on sales numbers and forum banter. Still, Soul Hackers 2 came out of nowhere, so there’s still hope for a new installment to this underrated spinoff series yet.
Devil Survivor and Devil Survivor 2 are available for the Nintendo DS. Devil Survivor Overclocked and Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker, their respective remasters, are available for the 3DS. If you’re a Shin Megami Tensei or Persona fan, check them out. You might even find them in a GameStop bargain bin.