It is rare that a game improves on all of the faults of its predecessor and still doesn’t feel like an appreciably better game. Devil Survivor 2 manages to achieve this feat. Nearly all the problems I had with the first Devil Survivor are eliminated or lessened, but I didn’t really like DS2 any more than I liked DS1. I did like DS1; it was often frustrating but the core gameplay was solid and the story was decent enough. Devil Survivor 2 doesn’t greatly shake things up, it merely sands down all the little problems that held back the first game, without introducing new problems to replace them and still manages to not really be an improvement.
One of the problems I had with DS1 was that I constantly felt lost. I couldn’t easily judge if I was spending my limited time effectively. The game takes place over a week and the clock moves with each scene you trigger, so you have decide which story paths to follow. This same system is in place in Devil Survivor 2, but the game does a better job of communicating your progress and the relative importance of each scene. Maybe that was because I was quicker to turn to a walkthrough when I was struggling, but DS2 does make some changes to make things easier. There are fewer time dependent missions that could result in the loss of a character. Plus, the game now has a system to tell the player how they stand with the rest of the cast. It is similar to Persona’s S-Links, but much less integral to the game until the end. The extra scenes are mostly just get to know the other characters and build a relationship with them. It just makes things easier.
Another way the first game made me feel lost was with its lack of a compendium. You could buy and fuse all the demons you wanted to, but once you fused it, it was gone forever. So if you managed to fuse a demon with a great combination of skill, or even one skill that you wanted to move to another demon, you only had once chance to do it. Devil Survivor 2 adds a compendium, but it barely fixes the problem, since it is so expensive that you can hardly use it. On replays the cost can come down, but by then it isn’t as needed. Still, its very existence is an improvement.
Possibly the biggest annoyance on the gameplay side of playing Devil Survivor were missions with NPCs, because those NPCs were completely suicidal. They would either charge into enemies or simply fail to even attempt to escape, resulting in game overs for the player no matter what they did. Devil Survivor 2 has much fewer escort missions, fewer NPCs and the NPCs it does have tend to be sturdier and smarter. Really, just eliminating most of those sorts of battles is a big improvement.
With all of these improvement, then why isn’t the game anymore fun? The biggest reason is that the story is stupendously inconsistent. Sometimes you see a scene about people starving, a couple hours or later you are having a feast to celebrate a victory. One scene talks about how powerful and dangerous some sealed demons are, in another a party member beats one of those demons into submission with a laptop. The story in DS1 wasn’t any great shakes either, keeping most of the cast hidden for the first couple of days and making it hard to get a read on anybody other than Atsuro and Yuzu. I don’t remember the tone being that all over the place though. The tonal inconsistency of Devil Survivor 2 really kills the game.
I tend to be harsher on games in the Shin Megami Tensei mega series that I am of other games because the bar has been set so high. It is the difference between Sonic Generations and New Super Mario Bros 2. I would call NSMB2 the better game, but it feels worse because every other Mario game is better. Sonic Generations, though, it the best game in its series in a decade or so, so the fault with it are easier to dismiss. That is how I feel about the Devil Survivor games. They aren’t as good as many of the other SMT games, but they are still better than most of the other games available.