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This review is about the original game for the DS.
I'll start with the negatives. The story of this game is lacking. It starts off interesting, with a journey into a Negative Space Wedgie in Antarctica that leads you into a bizarre and disturbing alternate dimension full of demons- the game's general term for figures from religion, mythology, and folklore. The first half of the games have areas based around humanity's failings: War, hedonism, consumerism, and wastefulness. It starts out disturbing, but eventually just feels like a downer. The game is, at least, very good at creating a doom and gloom atmosphere.
Eventually, the game gives you the option to either continue on with your expidition as planned, or join the Law or Chaos demons to reshape the world. And here's my biggest problem; the games wants to have its cake and eat it too with the choices. You are very, very, VERY much pressured into picking the Neutral endings. Law hates free will and wants to brainwash everyone into automatons. Chaos wants to create a social darwinist world where everyone has the "freedom" to murder people who don't do what you want. And as it turns out, there's not even much difference between the two of them; Law announces at the end that it will kill off anyone who doesn't meet some standard or another, while picking Chaos will see your companions brainwashed into mindless savages. The choice amounts to saying whether or not you liked red or blue. Picking the neutral route for me was less a triumphant moment and more doing a favor someone keeps bugging you to do.
The characters for the main plot are also not very good. There's Gore, the token wise black leader who dies early on because of course. Zelenin, the Law character who hates demons after they murder her crew and doesn't get much more characterization. Jimenez, the Chaos character who gets characterization of being an asshole who hates everything. There's the main angel, Mastema, who is Obviously Evil to the point it's absurd the other characters ally with him at all, much less for a large portion of the game. My favorite character from the game was the quest giver who kept falling in love with female demons, followed by the shopkeeper. They do not appear in the main plot at all.
The gameplay is good, though. The turn-based battles are nice, the demon summoning and fusion systems are fun to play with and there's a lot of customization options for building a party. However, having the wrong weaknesses can get you killed very quickly. The difficulty is just fine for random encounters, but can be unfair on certain bosses. Especially the final boss.
Dungeon exploration is generally well done, with several kinds of hidden areas to find on repeat visits. There's a surprisingly large number of sidequests, and they tend to be far more interesting than the main plot, with things like traveling through time to fight a powerful demon or fighting a toilet spirit.
On the whole, worth a try.
Let's start with some of the glaring cons: The music and the graphics are pretty much awful. The music tries for orchestral dramatic latin chorus, but it's simply grating on the dungeon crawl. Sprites are pretty grainy and the dungeons themselves are pretty badly drawn and difficult to distinguish.
But that's not why people want to play SMT games anyways, it's just an added bonus when it does happen. The combat for people unfamiliar with SMT is your protagonist and three given demons in a battle, and aside from that it's a traditional RPG/Dungeon Crawler. Demons are tameable and fusable and it's really interesting in this version too, as you can fuse within the dungeon itself and keep moving along. There's also a few added features that make the dungeon crawl interesting, such as a layouts that change when you turn around, doors that disappear, invisible walls, and the whole nine yards. You also search for various "forma" which is basically your item crafting materials, which makes wandering around the dungeons a bit nicer. Fusing demons has never been easier, as you can see what abilities will be inherited and what won't, as well as copying the abilities of another demon and adding them in as well, via Demon Sources. It's fairly intuitive and certainly is miles away from the good luck in fusing needed in other titles.
Plot wise, there is a really interesting concept, and it gets a full work out. You are essentially a Space Marine, at first, but then you start wandering through alternate realities full of demons and it just gets crazy. The only real fault against the plot is that the three branches typical to an SMT game, Law, Order, and Neutral, are very blatantly obvious and telegraphed from miles away.
All in all, I'd say if you're interested in SMT games, but have never played one before, this is not a bad place to start. It's not a bad game, but there are a lot of flaws and things that would probably repel some people. I picked it up for $20 as something to tide me over until the March games come out, and it's holding my interest. Definitely something at least worth looking into.
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