Atlus returns us to demon-filled Japan in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army. Much like previous games in the franchise, this installment focuses gameplay around demon summoning and enhancement, but this time it's all wrapped up in a new action-based battle system. The result has some balance and pacing issues that serve to detract from the experience, but Devil Summoner's dark and intriguing premise still makes for an interesting ride into demonic fantasy.
Japan is apparently filled to the brim with demons. They don't mention this in the tourism brochures.
The Shin Megami Tensei series' love of the occult provides yet another twisted world inhabited by both man and demon--only this time, the world is that of early 20th century Japan, where tradition and Western influences collide. The game kicks off with a mysterious young teenager being coached through demon-summoning techniques at a remote shrine. After he completes a set of basic tests where he captures and controls the monsters and then uses them to fight successfully, he is allowed to take the name of his summoner ancestors: Raidou Kuzunoha (he's the 14th). Raidou's a precocious lad, combining his sacred duty of watching over the demon and human denizens of Japan's capital city with a job at a hole-in-the-wall detective agency. Business is slow, but then a young customer by the name of Kaya Daidouji dials in and asks the detective to meet her at a bridge in town. As it turns out, her request is less along the lines of "help me solve a mystery" and more along the lines of "please kill me before my 16th birthday." Before our confused detective can even react, a group of red-clad soldiers kidnap the girl right in front of his eyes, and the adventure unrolls from there.
While the unique storyline presents a number of threads that beg for resolution, the story itself gets off to a somewhat awkward start. Raidou himself is introduced with hardly any background at all, and conversations with the supporting cast are light and without much depth. The detective agency's mellow and lackadaisical owner, Narumi; the determined lady journalist, Tae Asakura; and even Raidou's companion black cat, the talkative Gouto, start out on the flat side. The story does pick up as the game progresses, but the slow start is accentuated by how much combat this game throws at you, which is quite a bit.
As soon as you start the game, you'll be patrolling the streets of the capital for clues, making your way past kimono-clad women as well as the occasional suit and top hat. Since something's stirring up the demon activity, though, demons are absolutely everywhere. The random-encounter rate in Devil Summoner is almost ridiculously high, and you'll be fighting everywhere you go except inside shops. Since the game bases combat and puzzle-solving around you having access to demons of various types, having ready supplies of demons to capture can be helpful, but having to fight every few steps wherever you go is a high price to pay for that sort of convenience. You can purchase an item to lessen your run-ins with monsters, but it's an expense in a game where currency has to be managed to cover necessities.
Monster battles take place in a square field where both you and any demon companion you have summoned may move about freely. Raidou has both a pistol and a katana at his disposal, with the long-range bullets having the advantage of momentarily stunning an opponent (but doing little damage) while sword strikes are more powerful and can be chained for multiple hits up close. Since you can move all around the battlefield, this means that you can avoid some enemy attacks by changing position or moving away, which is helpful, although Raidou seems a little slow on his feet. You'll start off with a number of "tubes" that may be used to confine demons that you meet out in the field. Most every demon you run into can be captured, and once you've snagged one, you can both summon it in battle and have it follow you around town.
Capturing demons for fun and profit means you can use their powerful abilities.
Summoning a demon in battle lets it fight with you, and demons have a range of abilities they can use to help, such as powerful melee attacks, as well as healing and damage spells. Most of the time the demon will run around and attack of its own volition, though you can assign it commands directly, as well as ask it to perform simple behaviors, like conserving magical powers or concentrating on healing you. These commands all work well. Each demon comes with a number of elemental affinities and weaknesses, so fire demons will be vulnerable to ice spells and so forth. When a demon is struck by its vulnerability, it'll be weakened and unable to move. Plus, damage done to it will be greatly increased, so you'll have to make sure you have the proper creature for a given fight. You can change the monster you have summoned on the fly, though, so it's easy enough to swap one out if you need to. You can also press the L1 shoulder button to warp your summon to Raidou's location in the field to help it avoid nasty attacks. However, what goes for your demons is also true for your enemies', and using attacks that correspond to your enemies' weakness will lay them open to your attacks or make them vulnerable to your capture attempts.