We have a theory about the four-year gap between the initial release of Devil Survivor in Japan and the enhanced 3DS remake we're just getting now. We think that Europeans, accustomed to virtual conveyor belts that task you with shooting brown things and brown people, now have something against deep, unyielding strategy RPGs with stories of groups of preternaturally talented teens fighting demons in a pre-apocalyptic Tokyo.
Then again, perhaps we just have a fear of the interesting, so let's treat this review as a way of approaching what you might not like about a game like this and see if we can't defuse some prejudices.
We'll tackle the biggest issue first - the combat. It is hard. Occasionally caustically so, corroding any goodwill you might find yourself building up. Its combination of tile-and turn-based strategy and pseudo-Pokemon RPG battling is a heady mix, but there's a range of complications. A single battle can take up to half an hour, there's no autosave and some instant defeat conditions - particularly when centred around protecting NPCs - seem unnecessarily difficult to avoid. It can be infuriating.
But that's your fault for not playing correctly. The clues are there, most clearly in the battles' two states. A tile grid acts as your overview - an area in which you initially position and equip your teams before moving them, performing non-violent abilities and starting fights.
The fights are essentially a single turn from a more conventional turn-based RPG. Each participant picks a move from their list of abilities to perform, they resolve and you're returned to the overview. The easiest mistake is to ignore that first state. Your movement across the field, judging which enemy teams you could attack and which could attack you, is critical; getting surrounded, not moving to an objective or failing to heal is as bad as losing a fight. Putting the time into thinking around battles and the tactics needed to win them cleanly turns what could seem a gangling, disconnected system into among the most thoughtful combat we've seen in any handheld RPG.
So, what else do you think you won't like? Perhaps how the wider story's presented, although that, too, is finely and deliberately tuned. The plot itself will strike a chord with anyone who's played a Megami Tensei game before. Set in modern Tokyo, our teenage heroes - Atsuro, Yuzu and a named player-protagonist - become trapped in quarantine after "poisonous gas leaks" on the subway system. The truth, however, is that ferocious demons have appeared and the heroes have obtained DS-like 'COMPs' that enable them to summon their own and, morbidly, see the number of days before everyone around them will die.
Saved By The Hell
It's a story that treads MT's usual line between fantastical semi-cyberpunk events and the more grounded issues of adolescence, religion or love that pop up in between, all told through a curious mix of visual novel-style discussions between characters (with dialogue choices affecting future events) and what amounts to a timed walking tour of central Tokyo. A clock sits in the top corner, with every discussion and almost every battle adding half an hour to it. With major events scheduled at the start of every day (each chapter is a full 24-hour period) your choices of where to visit and who to speak to can have a sizeable impact on your game's outcome.
Stripping the time-sink of an explorable overworld doesn't just allow for the battles to take precedence. It also makes essential but time-consuming out-of-battle actions, such as bidding in Demon Auctions, or using the Fusion function to create new demons from your existing stock, more palatable. But what for those who've already overcome the stigma and imported the DS original? Beyond a resolution upgrade, Overclocked has full voice acting, throws in an extra 20 demons and adds a challenging epilogue chapter, which should bring the game length up to around 50 hours.
There are elements we can't defend, such as the dated visuals, or the limited soundtrack, but taken as a whole, Devil Survivor Overclocked is a huge, ambitious game that works perfectly on its own terms. The premise will turn many away, but those who take the plunge will find a ludicrous amount of excellent content within. It's not often that a publisher takes a chance on a traditionally unreceptive market, so if you have any interest in something beyond a brown future for European games, we'd suggest taking a chance here.