Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor is a game that, on paper at least, I should really enjoy. I like strategy RPGs, I like Shin Megami Tensei and its rock/paper/scissors-esque battle system, and I like games with branching paths and different endings. However, despite being made up almost entirely of things I like, Devil Survivor ended up being much more frustrating than fun.
It took me a while to figure out just why that is. It wasn’t because it is difficult. I’ve played harder games than Devil Survivor, and though it was far from easy Devil Survivor was far from hard. Actually, the difficulty is just about right. It wasn’t the at times off putting character designs and characters. Yeah, Yuzu’s boobs are weird and she’s kind of annoying, but for the most part the story and stuff is pretty good. After beating the game (taking Amane’s route out of necessity rather than choice) and thinking on it for a while I’ve realized what the problem it. Devil Survivor needs a map.
I don’t mean an explorable map, like DQ VIII and nearly every other classic RPG. That is not part of the game for a reason; it doesn’t fit with what the game is doing. I don’t necessarily mean a true map. I just want some way of navigating the various game systems. I want a map of map of the character’s progress, some way of charting my progress towards the various endings. Chrono Trigger had multiple endings, but its endings are dependant on big obvious things. It is never hard to tell what ending you are going to get. I don’t mind making tough decisions with real impact in games like this, I just want to know that I’m making such a decision. With Devil Survivor, I really never knew where I stood. I decided early on which ending I wanted to get: Atsuro’s. I kissed his ass for four or so days in the game, only to get to Day 7 and realize that somehow I failed to unlock his ending. I only had Amane’s and Yuzu’s endings to choose from. It was frustrating, and that frustration could have easily been avoided with a touch of transparency on the game’s part letting me know how about my progress.
It is not just in the story mechanics that need a map. Even though Devil Survivor has the SMT series’ usual collection of demons, it lack the usual compendium. The player can’t catalogue and buy back old demons. That makes the fusing process a constant move forward. It doesn’t make it impossible to repeat specific builds, it doesn’t really even make it harder to do so, it merely makes it a longer more tedious process to do so. Also, you can’t just look through a list for the demons with the right attributes for a tough battle, you have to get lucky with the auction house or fusing. Just as with the story, Devil Survivor’s party building mechanics drops the player into the wilderness with no way to find their way around. And for me at least, that is a big problem.
I love maps. I doubt I would have enjoyed Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time without them. I loved drawing maps in the Etrian Odyssey series. Those are literal maps, sure, but the concept is the same. I like to see where I have been and plan out where I am going. Radiant Historia uses a timeline so the player knows where and when they are in the games time traveling reality switching story. Throughout almost all of Devil Survivor I felt lost and I hated it. Which is sad, because otherwise it is a really good game.