Devil Survivor 2 is probably "too anime", whatever that means.

Daichi is Yosuke is Krillin is your dog, basically.

Daichi is Yosuke is Krillin is your dog, basically.

To me, it means it deals a lot in cliche and stock character tropes. There's the shy girl with the tragic past who slowly opens up, and the wacky sidekick character who mostly acts as an energetic, comedic foil to the sullen protagonist, but has his own moments of quiet pathos. There's the mysterious shadowy organization that protects Japan, every woman has breasts the size of her head, and almost all disputes are solved with a combination of bloodshed, sacrifice, and acknowledging the powers of friendship and teamwork. It's anime as all get out, but it works. 

Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is the latest (sort of) game in Atlus's long-running Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) mega-franchise. The games are all loosely connected by a thread consisting of shared mythologies, an obsession with multicultural folklore, and a generally "anime" tone. It's hard to fault them for that last one though, considering how closely they weave it right into the game's mechanics.

They also protect the egg underneath Neo Tokyo that the angels are trying to get at.

They also protect the egg underneath Neo Tokyo that the angels are trying to get at.

If you're familiar with SMT, you probably know it through the Persona series, which are often talked about as "anime you can play". Unlike when we talk about playable movies though, Persona — and SMT in general — isn't particularly cinematic. Persona is slow, and even the most recent games are pretty behind the times when it comes to graphical fidelity. They're made on small budgets that better suit their niche status, much like the smaller and smaller budgets anime are getting these days. So instead of aping anime's hyperactive, often hyper-kinetic animation styles, the SMT games go for something a little different in trying to invoke the feeling of their inspirations.

Record Breaker is a slice of life anime, through and through. Ostensibly, it's a turn-based, tactical strategy game with a high-speed version of the classic SMT battle system sandwiched between forays across a Final Fantasy Tactics or X-Com-esque gridded battlefield. It's a really good strategy RPG at that. The core, underlying systems of SMT are much more entertaining when you're only given one or two turns per encounter to dish out as much damage as possible before getting booted back to the battlefield. On top of that, you also have to worry about what skills and demons each party member has equipped, making each fight a little more dynamic than constant, droning random encounters. 

Admittedly, a giant frisbee/manta ray hybrid doesn't look threatening, but it can really mess you up.

Admittedly, a giant frisbee/manta ray hybrid doesn't look threatening, but it can really mess you up.

Underneath that cold, strategy RPG exterior though, there's an anime about teens hanging out in the post apocalypse. That's not news to anyone who picked up Devil Survivor 2 when it came out on DS a few years ago, but this 3DS remake adds on an entire second campaign, essentially acting as a second season that follows up the events of the first game.

Devil Survivor 2: Season 2 is probably the best way to think of Record Breaker, in fact. The second campaign has more taxing, complex battles, but also more of the cast hanging out between fights, chatting and slowly learning to trust each other as the world falls apart all around them. No one character is particularly exciting or spectacularly written, but they're solid executions on the traditional anime cliches that the SMT series trades in, and the added wrinkle of only having a limited amount of time per in-game day to spend with them means you start thinking about budgeting your friendships. 

Each event takes a half hour of in-game time, which you can't get back. Events could be story missions, random battles, or recruitment fights, but they can also be a chance to talk to a party member outside of combat and level up your friendship with them, which in turn makes them a better combat unit. Once you take a mission, returning to the world map will usually offer you a totally different mission set, meaning you have to pick what you do and who you spend time with wisely. None of the vignettes are all too different from one another, but end on end, it really does feel like you're stringing together segments of an anime episode, right down to the recap you get at the end of each day. 

This is why you always take the escalator.

This is why you always take the escalator.

To a certain extent, it's one of the most successful takes on adapting anime into something a player can have control over. Persona segments time into larger chunks, giving a player two, maybe three actions a day. Sure, you have more days overall, but it feels less like you can make small individual choices to determine your own narrative. Meanwhile, Catherine, another SMT-adjacent game that takes plenty of cues from anime, gives you plenty of leeway within the segments it presents, but railroads your interactions a lot more, only diverging when you find out which ending your choices got you.

It's interesting that Atlus's SMT games are some of the only ones to really take on the Japanese side of making a playable movie. Plenty of Japanese developers, like Metal Gear's Hideo Kojima and Ninja Gaiden's Tomonobu Itagaki, are inspired by western films, but most anime-inspired games the crib visual aesthetics rather than the narrative ones. Stuff like the recent Time and Eternity, or even the Tales of series have their ridiculous anime lots, but structure themselves traditionally, lacing that broken-up, episodic feel that Atlus games tend to nail. On the other hand, games bandied about as "playable anime" are often visual novels, which go the entirely opposite direction, and trade motion for fidelity to the narrative structures of the medium, with distinct parts, and even realistically goofy character writing— the Phoenix Wright games are prime examples.

Call me "onii-chan", it's not like we're not all going to anime hell anyway.

Call me "onii-chan", it's not like we're not all going to anime hell anyway.

It's not like anime and games don't have a long history either. Early games with cutscenes like Ninja Gaiden and Phantasy Star were explicitly inspired by manga panels. It's hard to say why Atlus is the only developer that keeps prodding that relationship and turning it into something satisfying though. Record Breaker is a fun game, but the clichéd characters and ridiculously twisty story would get grating fast if it weren't for the game's episodic, segmented narrative design, which lends itself perfectly to a low-action game like Record Breaker.  The fact that the second campaign doesn't immediately get boring despite being literally more of the same is impressive, and owes a lot to using anime structures to force a change in how players perceive and consume the game. If nothing else, Devil Survivor 2: Season 2 is exactly what it should be- more anime.

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