Believing all apocalyptic preachers; the world we live in is perpetually on the verge of utter annihilation. If it isn’t a global zombie scare brought about by drug addicts eating each other, it’s a holy deity coming down from on high to take the chosen people to salvation, leaving us sinners behind for what is essentially Hell on Earth.
I couldn’t count on two hands the amount of times, in my lifespan alone, the world has been under threat of complete destruction. Meteors, economic collapse, black holes, Satan’s arrival, the Rapture…all within the short span of twenty years, and that’s only an abridged version of the extensive list. The point I’m trying to make is; depending on who you ask, the eradication of all life on our planet is only ever just around the corner.
In one of ATLUS’ many new video game releases, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker, you play as a young man thrown into a realm of utter chaos and destruction after coming into possession of a strange new SmartPhone application that periodically delivers video messages detailing how the people around you are going to die. Not heeding to the message of the application, your two friends and you are killed in a train crash but are brought back to life by not only the power of the bizarre application but by the power of your own will.
The world is then thrust into a state of destruction on apocalyptic proportions courtesy of the Demons summoned by that very same application. Now in possession of Demons of your own, you decide that you’re not just going to be another addition to the death statistics, instead you will work towards survival and, hopefully, some sort of resolution.
A mysterious catastrophe has laid waste to Japan. At the heart of this disaster is a cabal of ominous, supremely powerful invaders and the sudden arrival of legions of demons. The people that still live struggle to survive, clinging desperately to their last shreds of safety and sanity as the world collapses around them.
Thirteen demon tamers emerge from this chaos, with powers earned through forging contracts with demons. They alone can stand against the monstrous invaders.
Meanwhile, JP’s, a secret government agency, rises to prominence in the wake of the disaster, working constantly towards their own covert goals. – ATLUS, U.S.A
Record Breaker features a wondrously engulfing storyline that seems as though it pays homage to Anime series’ like Neon Genesis Evangelion and video games like The World Ends With You. It features rough storytelling techniques with enough gravitas to almost physically weigh you down, and an urban, almost punk-ish style that keeps you going through the more heart-breaking story progressions. Biblical in nature, the overarching storyline revolves around the impending doom of our universal realm, as the Gods of time, space, and everything in-between test to see whether or not it’s continued existence is entirely necessary. With layers upon layers of detail surging through this larger-than-life storyline, it is almost impossible for me to properly explain it to you in a way that will do it justice, but I feel as though that alone is one of the greatest compliments I could give to this title.
When a game such as Record Breaker plays host to a fleshed out story of this calibre, it’s hard to hold anything in as high a regard. Fortunately for this game, it also features a cast of characters charming enough to back up this incredible story without taking anything away from it. In fact; it adds so much depth to such a tale of divinity by giving it a huge, overly human presence in the form of both the protagonists and antagonists. Through time management, you’re given the ability to form bonds with fellow Demon Tamers that you have saved along the way, and in doing so you’re given the incredible gift of their backstory which, nine times out of ten, is heartfelt and thought-provoking.
Record Breaker is a game that has mastered the art of sheer immersion, not just through it’s gameplay style but through it’s story telling and character development. As the main character, you come into contact with so many people in much the same situation as yourself, and as you continue to interact with them, the feeling that you are indeed this character on screen becomes more and more vivid. By the time you’re a dozen hours into the game, you begin to act and react to certain situations as if this was really happening to you, and it’s through fantastic script writing and a cast of realistic characters that this is made possible. The story, and each of it’s small but pivotal elements, promote a full experience that not only asks you to tap buttons but asks you to think about exactly why you would.
Record Breaker gives players a chance to experience the long lineage of Shin Megami Tensei video games in a single release with it’s gameplay mechanics being what I would call an amalgamation of many different titles released previous to the original Devil Survivor 2. Though some tweaks have been made to the re-release of the game, they are minor and only serve to further tighten the mechanics, making this a practically flawless video game. A fair bit of your time, much like the Persona series, is spend managing time and building relationships with other characters which then adds to the way they handle themselves in combat. The rest of your time playing the game will be made up with battle after battle, broken up by story dialogue and the aforementioned time management segments. Record Breaker has a wonderful pace that tends to change as soon as you begin to get somewhat bored of what you’re constantly doing. Essentially; this game keeps players on their toes, making it appealing enough for people like myself to crave time with it.
The most engaging aspect of which the game is played is not it’s impeccable pacing but that of it’s actual mechanics which, as I mentioned just above, are all very much reminiscent of other Shin Megami Tensei titles. Battles are played out on a grid, with individual units getting a chance to move and attack while casting pre-battle spells to turn the tides of combat, much like your standard, well-made tactical role-playing game. Once in actual combat, the game shifts to a style much like the original line of Shin Megami Tensei titles wherein which you and your team of two Demons go up against and enemy team of three which, much like yourself, could also feature a human unit. There you will be able to attack as normal, cast spells, guard, etc. I will reiterate; as soon as Record Breaker begins to make you feel as though it will start to get monotonous, it performs a shift that will entice you to continue your play through, even on a small scale such as a quick engagement with an enemy unit.
The most exciting feature, in my personal opinion, is that of the Demon Fusing mechanic which, as the name states, allows you to take Demons you already own and fuse them together to create more powerful units to use in battle. While most, if not all, Shin Megami Tensei title have this feature, I think it still deserves a mention because of the huge impact it not only has on your progression through the game but your overall enjoyment of the experience. Fusing Demons is such a rewarding element of the game because once you compare your starting lineup to the current units you have now, you see that you’ve put a great deal of work into their progression and development, and you become so much more invested in seeing your team grow even greater. It has much the same appeal as games like Pokemon, that see you grow to connect with these monsters in strange but rewarding ways.
It’s unfortunate, but it seems as though we’ve gotten to a point in time wherein which pixel art in video games has become a thing of the past. While the graphical capabilities of new consoles and new video game titles stand leagues above those of yesteryear, I still believe sprite art to be one of the most charming aesthetic styles to ever feature in a video game. This is why Record Breaker, to me, is a grand breath of fresh air. Not only does this title feature a visual style almost entirely made up by pixel art, but the calibre of said art is awe-inspiring. Everything you see, from the well-designed character models to the devastated battle environments of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, is as detailed as it possibly could be. Look hard enough at an environment and I can guarantee the longer you stare the more you will discover about it. Whether it be the flutter of a ripped flag or the spark of a semi-destroyed street lamp, there’s so much within Record Breaker’s aesthetics, half of which you wouldn’t even notice unless you stopped to take a quick second to investigate.
Sticking to true Shin Megami Tensei tradition, the Demons are shown not in pixel form but in original, hand-drawn images that mostly stay stagnant throughout a battle. Though it seems as though it would be a feature that would quickly get boring, considering none of the models move in combat, you’re never really given the time to sit and ponder it, simply because the game is so fast-paced. What adds to the acceptance of this, let’s say, archaic visual style is that it one massive throwback to the original Shin Megami Tensei titles, which surprisingly still works in modern times. Any fan of the series will immediately appreciate this particular feature, and anyone even half interested in the video game series will quickly come to understand why visually portraying the demons in this way is almost a necessity.
While great visuals do a game very well in the long run, it is a great soundtrack that makes it even better. Thankfully Record Breaker does feature a fantastic soundtrack that does not confine itself to a single genre but, with each differing track, it somehow finds a way to stick to an electronic, new-age theme. Shin Megami Tensei titles are indeed known for having fantastic soundtracks, and although people tend to think of Persona singularly, Record Breaker deserves some time in the spotlight for it’s well-composed, wonderfully-placed soundtrack that seems to perfectly set any mood, regardless of whether you are battling a boss Demon or “shooting the breeze” with one of your comrades.
Possibly my favorite feature of this title, bar none, is the voice acting, which is absolutely brilliant. For the game’s rerelease, ATLUS decided that ever single piece of dialogue, important or otherwise, must be voice acted. What I think is the true marvel is that even throw away lines spoken by the most minor of characters are performed with the utmost professionalism to be as funny or hard-hitting as they need to be. The main character cast all have likeable personalities that really get a chance to shine when it comes time for them to talk. Each and every voice performer brings the very best to their respective roles and you can hear just how much they enjoyed working on the game. It truly is one of the greatest English voice dubs in a Japanese game I’ve ever had the pleasure of experience, and I truly believe more need to experience it for themselves.
I’m finding it hard to end this review because I simply cannot say any more positive things about this title…it’s utter perfection, and while that seems like the best thing to say, I still feel as though it isn’t nearly enough. Record Breaker is a video game that originally came out many years ago to a fairly positive reception. It was an amazing game back then but it wasn’t perfect…so ATLUS simply made it so. They re-released this title with full voice acting, updated mechanics, and an extra storyline that is not only cannon to the story, but almost doubles the overall playtime of the title. It also retains everything that made it great back when it was first released, making this game one of the few re-releases in history to actually gives people who originally bought this title a good enough reason to go back and buy it again now that it has returned to life.
It’s a game that demands to be played, and doesn’t allow you the time to ponder whether or not it is worth it. You’ll find yourself sinking hour after hour into this game only to then return to it later to do the same. Record Breaker takes your personal level of “restraint” and throws it out the proverbial window, practically forcing you to play it long after you would have usually thought to be enough. At twenty hours in, I still wasn’t even close to finishing the game, and that didn’t bother me. I was more interested in the slow burn of the story, and the development of my own character in accordance to the characters around him. Record Breaker is a game that will take up a great deal of your time, but in a way that you will not regret it. Having half an hour sessions here and there will not seem like a waste of time because the game is so well-oiled that, even in short bursts, you will feel as though you’ve accomplished something.
When I said earlier that this game is utter perfection…I wasn’t exaggerating. If anything, I was under selling it. Record Breaker is a title for Shin Megami Tensei fans and newcomers to the series alike. You’ll feel instantly at home, and it is a game that will remain in both your mind and heart for a long time to come. This game is a necessity for anyone who loves Japanese role-playing games because it truly is the best of it’s kind.